For the Utah football team, particularly Charlie Brown, it was sweet redemption.
The Utes captured a satisfying 38-22 victory Saturday night before 34,393 fans at Jack Murphy Stadium, where they had suffered through a humiliating 52-point loss the last time they played here, four years earlier.With the victory, the Utes moved to 5-0 for the first time since 1985. They also stayed perfect in the Western Athletic Conference race at 2-0.
Brown, the senior running back who was the only player left from that 1990 whipping, scored a pair of second-half touchdowns, just when the Aztecs were making a game of it.
It was especially sweet for Brown since he grew up in San Diego, where he played for Lincoln High. First Brown exploded for a 50-yard touchdown run just after the Aztecs had closed within three points in the third quarter. Then he added another score when he bowled over two defenders.
Quarterback Mike McCoy, who hadn't been happy with his earlier performances this year, came through with his best game of the season, completing 28 of 36 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns.
"Mike McCoy had a fantastic game," said Ute coach Ron McBride. "He's so smart he's uncanny. He has bailed us out so many times."
Freshman Juan Johnson picked up 103 yards on 10 carries while Brown gained 73 yards on 10 carries.
The Utes, who came into the game 10th in the nation in total offense, finished with 549 yards of total offense. San Diego State gained more than any Ute opponent with 340 yards.
"We were beaten by a very good football team tonight," said SDSU coach Ted Tollner. "Every time we had a chance to make it a game we would shoot ourselves. Utah is a very physical football team."
The Utes came out strong in the third quarter after going into halftime in a frustrating 7-7 tie.
After holding the Aztecs on their first possession without a first down, Utah moved 66 yards in eight plays and scored on a 20-yard pass from McCoy to Derrick Marston.
Dan Pulispher put the Utes up 17-7 at the 7:51 mark when he kicked a 45-yard field goal. On its next possession, Utah was on the verge of scoring, moving to the three-yard line. Instead it was the Aztecs who scored.As McCoy went back to pass, he was hit from behind by Craigus Thompson from behind. The ball popped loose and Julius McChristian scooped it up on the run and rambled untouched for an 85-yard touchdown.
Suddenly it was 17-14 and the Aztecs were back in the game and the Utes were reeling. Or were they?
Apparently not, because it took them just 21 seconds to score. First Cal Beck made a nice kickoff return to the Utah 43 and McCoy scrambled for seven. Then Brown received a handoff on a simple off-tackle play. He broke a hole into the secondary and then turned on the burners to accelerate past two defensive backs to complete the 50-yard TD run.
An Aztec fumble caused by Luther Elliss and recovered by Bronzell Miller led to the next score. Two long passes to Jamil Williams and Deron Claiborne set up a 1-yard run by Brown.
Brown took the pitch and after nearly getting tackled out at the 9, he circled around the right end and bulled his way through two Aztec defenders into the end zone.
The Aztecs weren't through, however. Billy Blanton, a sophomore who took over for an injured Tim Gutierrez, moved his team 80 yards in 12 plays with Wayne Pittman going the final two yards. A two-point pass was good and the Aztecs were back in business at 31-22. Things got real interesting when the Aztecs recovered the on-sides kick at the Ute 37 with seven minutes still in the game.
But the SDSU drive stalled at the 23 and a 40-yard field goal attempt by Matt George was wide right.
Utah then tacked on a final touchdown with McCoy hitting freshman Kevin Dyson from 48 yards out.
The Aztecs were hurt by the loss of Gutierrez who went out late in the first half with a broken left clavicle on a tackle by Miller. But McBride didn't think that made too much difference.
"Definitely not," he said. "Did you see the third quarter? They got that on-sides kick and we had to stop them."
Early in the game, the Utes looked like they were going to dominate. On the first play from scrimmage, Johnson got loose for a 42-yard run off left tackle. The Utes had first and goal at the Aztec 3, but failed on four tries. Ute coaches and fans thought they scored on both the third-down run by Johnson and the fourth-down try by Sylvester Cooperwood, but the officials disagreed.
Late in the first quarter it was the Utes' turn to show off their defense near the goal line, after the Aztecs had 1st-and-goal at the 5-yard line. They held and forced a 19-yard field goal try by Peter Holt that was wide right.
The Utes took over and drove 80 yards in 12 plays with McCoy hitting Curtis Marsh with a 20-yard scoring pass as Marsh made a nice diving catch in the end zone.
San Diego State put together its own 80-yard drive late in the second quarter to tie the game at 7-7. On fourth-and-one at the 9-yard line, the Aztecs fooled the Utes as Guitierrez faked a handoff up the middle then turned and hit a wide-open Ken Overby out of the backfield for a touchdown with 3:00 left.
The Utes had one last chance to score in the final minute when Miller sacked Gutierrez and forced a fumble at the SDSU 30-yard line. But the Utes completed one pass for a 3-yard loss and threw two incompletions. Pulsipher, who had earlier missed a 51-yard field goal, missed from 50 yards.
GAME NOTES: A large contingent of Utah fans were on hand cheering their team on from the northeast corner of the stadium. After the game, the Ute players went over to pay tribute to the Ute faithful who made the trip . . . Ute linebacker Derrick Stapley left the game with a dislocated knee in the first quarter . . . San Diego lost several players to injuries, the most serious being Gutierrez . . . Utah returns home to play Hawaii next week at 1 p.m. in Rice Stadium, while San Diego State plays at New Mexico . . . San Diego State had won five of the previous seven meetings between the two teams. The last Ute win in San Diego was a 39-37 victory in 1985.