BOULDER, Colo. — Perhaps the Pac-12 really does know a thing or two about putting rivalries together. For the second consecutive year, the so-called “Rumble in the Rockies” lived up to its billing.
This one was decided by a pair of 100-yard kickoff returns in a span of 13 seconds in the final quarter. Utah’s Reggie Dunn capped things off with his fourth such score of the season, lifting the Utes to a 42-35 victory over Colorado on Friday afternoon at Folsom Field.
“I can’t for the life of me figure out why they kicked to Reggie Dunn,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “But I’m glad they did.”
Dunn’s game-winning return with 8:12 remaining followed a 100-yard score by Colorado’s Marques Mosley that had knotted things up.
When time expired Dunn was carried off the field on the shoulders of teammates while Utah fans chanted “Reggie, Reggie” as he shook hands with them on his way to the locker room.
“It’s crazy, man. It’s a great way to go out in my last game of my college career,” Dunn said. “It’s real emotional.”
Dunn added that all credit belongs to the kickoff-return team.
“We knew that we could do it,” he said. “We feel like we’re the best kickoff return in the nation.”
The outcome improved Utah’s record to 5-7, giving the Utes slim hopes of a possible bowl bid if not enough teams qualify.
“Right now it’s beyond our control all we can do is sit back and see what happens,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said after his team’s first road win of the season.
Besides Dunn, Utes received other significant contributions Friday. The defense intercepted four passes and a recovered a fumble, while running back John White headlined the offense by rushing for 168 yards and becoming the first player in school history to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
Whittingham said those were two areas that he thought would lead to success for the Utes. However, he called the game a “mixed bag” overall because of the wild ride it took to come away with the win.
Utah trailed 28-20 entering the fourth quarter after Colorado (1-11) rallied with a pair of short touchdown runs by Tony Jones (3 yards) and Donta Abron (5 yards). The stampede by the Buffaloes followed a 37-yard field goal by Coleman Petersen that put the Utes up 20-14 early in the second half.
Aside from Mosley’s return, the fourth quarter belonged to Utah. The Utes scored 22 points.
“Offensively we just ran it down their throats,” said defensive end Trevor Reilly. “Obviously, Reggie Dunn’s kickoff return was great. If he’s not an All-American, it’s a crime.”
Before Dunn’s heroics, Utah climbed back into contention with an 11-yard touchdown run by White and a “pop pass” from Jake Murphy to David Rolf on the ensuing two-point conversion to make it 28-28 with 10:50 left to play.
The Utes then got the ball back quickly when Moe Lee intercepted Colorado quarterback Nick Hirschman on first down. Four plays later, Utah quarterback Travis Wilson ran 9 yards for a touchdown.
Then came the exchange of kickoff returns.
It took an interception by Brian Blechen with 37 seconds remaining to seal the outcome and give Utah a measure of revenge for last year’s 17-14 loss to the Buffaloes in Salt Lake City.
Despite reversing some season-long deficiencies in the first half, Utah held a slim 17-14 lead at the break. The Utes intercepted two passes (raising their season total to six) and made a field goal (just their seventh of the year) to build the early edge.
Utah didn’t waste any time getting on the board after Reilly picked off Hirschman on the second play of the game and took the ball into the red zone. The Utes needed just one play to cash in on the takeaway. A 16-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Dres Anderson put them on top just 44 seconds into the contest.
The lead, however, didn’t last for long.
Colorado tied the score at 7-7 after Hirschman connected on an 8-yard scoring strike to Nelson Spruce with 8:55 remaining in the first quarter. A roughing-the-kicker penalty on Utah kept the Buffaloes’ 12-play, 75-yard drive alive.
Things got better for the Utes, though, before the quarter was complete. They added a 21-yard field goal by Petersen after forcing another turnover — a fumble forced by Jason Whittingham and recovered by Eric Rowe on the Colorado 29-yard line.
Utah remained ahead for the balance of the half, although it took a big play on special teams to avert a tie. After Charles Henderson fumbled a punt return in the second quarter, Colorado’s Will Oliver wound up attempting a 43-yard field goal. It was blocked by Joe Kruger, however, keeping the Utes on top.
The lead grew late in the quarter when Rowe set up a Utah touchdown with an interception. Six plays after taking over near midfield, Kelvin York ran 4 yards into the end zone.
Trailing 17-7, Colorado responded with an 11-play march downfield. The Buffaloes capped it off with a 1-yard touchdown run by Hirschman to cut the deficit to three with just 20 seconds left to play in the half.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @DirkFacer
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company