Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Utah's Joe Dale lies on the ground as Steve Tate celebrates Dale's game-clinching interception in the fourth quarter.

SAN DIEGO — Joe Dale has gone pretty much unnoticed on the Ute football team this year.

The sophomore defensive back from Irving, Texas, started a couple of early games, but didn't play a lot during the second half of the season.

However, Dale came up big for the Utes on Thursday night against Navy, making the two biggest defensive plays of the game in the final minutes to preserve the Utes' seventh straight bowl victory and earn defensive player of the game honors.

After Navy stopped the Utes at the 1-yard line with 3:40 left, Dale stopped Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada on a fourth-down play at the Navy 9-yard line on a naked bootleg around the left end with 2:17 left.

That seemed to be the key defensive play after the Utes subsequently scored to make it 35-25 with 1:27 left.

However, after Navy quickly scored to cut the lead to 35-32 and then recovered the onside kick, the Utes needed one more stop.

And Dale made it.

He stepped in front of Zerbin Singleton for the interception that clinched the game for the Utes.

"I gave up a deep pass early in the game, so I knew they would come back to me," Dale said. "I knew I would have to step up and make a play."

As for the fourth-down stop, Dale said, "We just had to buckle down and make some big plays, so that's what I did."

Dale was playing more because the Utes used an extra defensive back instead of a linebacker.

WEDDLE'S SUPPORT: Ex-Ute Eric Weddle, who now plays for the San Diego Chargers, was on the Utah sideline for the game. He spent much of the past week hanging out with his former teammates and coaches — even staying at the team hotel.

"It's been awesome. It's been a great three days I've been able to spend with them," Weddle said. "I'm just here to support them and be there for them."

It was the first chance the NFL rookie has had to watch his alma mater play in person this season.

MESSAGE FROM ABOVE: During the Utes' pregame warm-ups, an airplane flew over Qualcomm Stadium a couple of times carrying a banner — presumably the work of a BYU fan — that read: "Harline is still open and Collie, too."