SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s bid for a 10th consecutive season of bowl eligibility came to an end Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
A 34-24 loss to Arizona assured the Utes of their first losing season since 2002 and officially snapped a string of nine consecutive bowl appearances for the program.
“At the end of the day we just didn’t get the job done in enough games this year,” said junior linebacker Trevor Reilly.
At 4-7 overall, the Utes will close out the season Friday at Colorado (1-10).
“Tough to see the seniors not come away with a win in their last game at Rice-Eccles,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “They played hard. Everybody played hard.”
Trailing 17-14 at halftime, Utah rallied to take the lead in the third quarter. The Utes pulled even on a 24-yard field goal by Coleman Petersen and moved in front with a 36-yard touchdown pass from Travis Wilson to DeVonte Christopher.
Utah’s bowl hopes, however, evaporated in the fourth quarter. Arizona scored two touchdowns less than four minutes into it to take the lead for good.
The decisive swing began with a 2-yard run by Arizona's Daniel Jenkins and concluded with an 18-yard pass from Matt Scott to Austin Hill. The latter followed a failed fake punt by the Utes that gave the Wildcats possession on the Utah 41-yard line. Running back Ka’Deem Carey then ran for 20 yards on first down to set up the go-ahead score. Carey finished with 204 yards on 26 carries.
Arizona added some insurance late in the game, taking advantage of a short field after stopping Utah on fourth down for the fourth time. John Bonano’s 24-yard field goal with 1:15 remaining sealed the deal.
“We didn’t make it happen in the fourth quarter,” Wilson said. “I think that really hurt us. We didn’t win the fourth quarter.”
The high-powered Wildcats, who improved to 7-4 in their first season under head coach Rich Rodriguez, finished with 480 yards of total offense and 27 first downs. The Utes netted 449 yards and moved the chains 21 times. Wilson completed 28-of-40 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns. Running back John White ran for 112 yards on 27 carries.
The opening quarter featured three drives ending with loss-on downs, two by Utah and one by Arizona. The Wildcats went first. They moved the ball inside the red zone on the game’s initial possession before a 15-yard pass-interference call drove them out of scoring range. The drive ended after four more plays, including three incompletions — the last one coming on fourth-and-23 from the Utah 31.
The Utes’ first drive also ended with a fourth-down incompletion, leaving them 5 yards shy of moving past the Arizona 26.
Utah didn’t wait long to get another try. The Wildcats turned the ball over on the ensuing play when Carey fumbled after getting hit by Brian Blechen and Star Lotulelei recovered it for Utah on the Arizona 28. The Utes managed to march all the way to the 4-yard line before being stopped. Back-to-back runs by White failed to produce the needed yardage to keep the drive alive.
The rejections finally came to an end, however, when Arizona broke the scoring drought with a seven-play, 68-yard drive late in the first quarter. A 44-yard field goal by Bonano put the Wildcats ahead 3-0.
Utah used a little razzle-dazzle, however, to erase the deficit just over five minutes later. That’s when Petersen capped an 11-play drive with a 3-yard touchdown run on a fake kick. The senior kicker ran to the right side of the end zone after taking a pitch from holder Sean Sellwood. Petersen then added the PAT to put the Utes on top 7-3.
A 10-second span later in the second quarter shifted the momentum back to Arizona, though, and led to a 17-7 advantage for the Wildcats. The swing began with a 1-yard touchdown by Carey and continued with a fumble by Wilson on the next drive. Reggie Gilbert recovered it on the Utah 27-yard line, setting up another touchdown drive for Arizona — a five-play sequence that ended with a 10-yard run by quarterback Matt Scott.
Down by 10, Utah managed to close the gap before the half was complete. A 34-yard scoring strike from Wilson to Jake Murphy with 3:45 to play in the second quarter put the Utes back into contention. A takeaway in the closing minute of the half kept it that way. Nate Fakahafua recovered a fumble by Scott on the Utah 7 with 33 seconds left in the half.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: @DirkFacer
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company