For the second consecutive year, the big game came down to the last play.
This time, however, it was John Beck and the BYU Cougars who left the field smiling.
An 11-yard touchdown pass from Beck to Jonny Harline lifted No. 21 BYU to a dramatic 33-31 victory over Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The game-winning play ended well after time expired.
With the Utes dropping eight defenders back and not providing much of a pass rush, Beck had plenty of time to find an open receiver. His lengthy search concluded when Harline raced to the left side of the end zone.
The tight end was wide open when he dropped to his knees to make the decisive catch.
"After a while the play just kind of broke up," Harline said. "I just ran to where I thought I'd be open."
The Cougars, who had Beck take a knee on the ensuing extra-point attempt to prevent any chance of the Utes pulling even, then celebrated. They capped a perfect 8-0 season in the Mountain West Conference and defeated Utah for the first time since 2001.
Last season in Provo, the Utes escaped with a 41-34 overtime victory when a final pass by Beck fell into the end zone without being touched.
"Shoot. Last year we just came up this short. It's tough to come up that short," Beck said. "But now to be able to be a winner, it's great. It's a great feeling."
Beck, who completed 29-of-43 passes for 375 yards and four touchdowns, led BYU to scores on its final three drives. The success allowed the Cougars to rally from a 24-14 deficit in the fourth quarter.
"This was a classic game. Both teams made comebacks and showed a lot of character," Utah defensive back Eric Weddle said. "On the last play, we dropped eight and had them covered well. They just found a way to get open."
The thriller, he added, may go down as one of the best in the storied history of the series.
"This is one to remember. It was one of the greatest games in this rivalry," Weddle said. "Beck did a good job tonight and won the game at the end. He earned a lot of respect tonight."
The BYU senior led his team to an early 14-0 lead before cooling off over the second and third quarters. He heated up again down the stretch.
"I am thrilled for our seniors, captains and for the leadership in this program. I couldn't think of a more fitting way for this rivalry to play out," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "For the last two years, you've seen two teams fight their hearts out and have it come down to the last play.
"I think it is a tribute to both teams. It's a great thing for our state," he added. "I am very gratified to be undefeated in conference, and, again, I am very proud of our seniors."
Besides Beck, several other BYU veterans had solid outings. Harline led the supporting cast with seven catches for 118 yards and three touchdowns. Daniel Coats finished with six receptions and a score. Linebacker Cameron Jensen wound up with a team-high 10 tackles.
The Cougars jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, off a 1-yard touchdown run by Manase Tonga and a 36-yard scoring strike from Beck to Harline, before Utah retaliated.
While holding BYU to just 12 yards of total offense and no first downs in the second quarter, the Utes climbed back into contention. They closed the gap to 14-10 by halftime after an 18-yard touchdown pass from Weddle to Brent Casteel and a 24-yard field goal by Louie Sakoda.
Utah could have pulled even closer, but a 41-yard field goal attempt by Sakoda in the second quarter was wide left a kick that followed a near-conversion on third down when Marquis Wilson almost hauled in a catch on the BYU 2 but was unable to hold onto it after a hard hit by cornerback Ben Criddle.
By game's end, other opportunities would evade the Utes.
On the opening drive of the second half, Utah's offense stalled two inches shy of a first down inside the BYU 6-yard line.
The Utes did, however, make amends for it the next time they got the ball. A 57-yard touchdown pass from Ratliff to Wilson gave them a 17-14 lead with 8:24 remaining in the third quarter ending BYU's streak of 34 consecutive quarters with a lead.
Less than seven minutes later, Utah extended its advantage to 24-14 when Ratliff teamed with Colt Sampson on a 4-yard TD toss.
It stayed that way until the final 13:15. That's when things went back and forth and left the outcome in doubt until the last play.
BYU's initial strike in the rally was aided by a pass interference call on third-and-24 that put the Cougars on the Utah 30. They eventually capitalized by scoring on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Beck to Harline. Paul Soliai blocked the PAT for Utah, keeping the score 24-20.
Just less than 10 minutes later, BYU capped a sustained drive of 13 plays and 90 yards with a 2-yard scoring strike from Beck to Daniel Coats.
Trailing 27-24, the Utes fired back with 1:19 left to play. A 19-yard pass from Ratliff to Casteel concluded an 83-yard journey downfield on nine plays.
After the ensuing kickoff, BYU had 75 yards to go in order to prevail. They met the challenge in 10 plays, converting on fourth down (off a 17-yard pass from Beck to Harline) once along the way, to get the job done doing so with the dramatic finish.
"It was great," Beck said. "Everybody was out there, and I saw Jonny coming back."
The outcome extended BYU's win streak to nine games, while snapping Utah's string of victories at three.
"It was a tough, emotional game and a tough one to lose. The offense and defense played well today. We got beat by a very good football team with a good quarterback," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who noted that his team missed out on some opportunities in the game.
Even so, he was proud of the effort. The Utes racked up 474 yards of total offense. Quarterback Brett Ratliff completed 24-of-39 passes for 358 yards and three touchdowns. On defense, linebacker J.J. Williams finished with a game-high 13 tackles. Casey Evans, Weddle, Steve Tate and Joe Jianonni each contributed seven or more stops.
"We're a resilient group, and there was no quit in this team. We rely on each other and just kept fighting the whole time," Whittingham said. "The last play was just a long play. Their quarterback did a good job of staying alive until someone was open. They still had to make a great catch on the play."The Cougars (10-2, 8-0) are now headed to the Las Vegas Bowl, where they'll face a Pac-10 opponent on Dec. 21. The Utes (7-5, 5-3), meanwhile, are likely ticketed for the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas, on Dec. 23. Conference USA will supply the opponent.
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