1 of 15
Andrew Allred, For the Deseret News
Utah quarterback Brian Johnson celebrates his 56-yard, first-half touchdown run against UNLV during the Utes' 42-21 victory to open Mountain West Conference play Saturday night.

It's been said that revenge is best served cold.

Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium it took a little time to warm up.

And when it did, 22nd-ranked Utah pulled away and avenged last season's loss to UNLV with a 42-21 victory.

The Utes did most of their damage in the second half after playing to standstill over the first two quarters. They returned from the break with renewed vigor.

"We challenged them a little bit at halftime and the bottom line was in the second half the tougher, more physical team that wanted

it more was going to win," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.

"That's what I told them at halftime and they responded."

It didn't take long.

David Reed, the highly touted junior college transfer, ignited the Utes by returning the second-half kickoff 49 yards. Five plays later, they capitalized on the field position when Johnson connected on a 32- yard touchdown pass to Freddie Brown.

It broke a 14-14 tie and gave Utah it's first lead, a margin that quickly doubled after another good return.

John Peel took a punt back 25 yards to set up another score — a 15-yard touchdown run by Reed on a reverse.

In a span of less than three minutes, the Utes had pulled ahead 28-14. They crossed the goal line again before the third quarter was complete. An 8-yard TD from Johnson to tight end Colt Sampson and Louie Sakoda's PAT made it 35-14.

After a subpar first half, Johnson wound up completing 8-of-9 passes for 96 yards in the pivotal third quarter. He wound up throwing for 183 yards and rushing for a team-high 80 yards.

"There was no panic," Johnson said. "Guys knew we had to step up and make plays and they did."

The defense did it's part by putting the clamps on UNLV's Frank Summers. The running back, who burned Utah for 190 yards and two touchdowns in last year's win, had 82 yards at the midway point this time around. He had three yards on three carries in the third quarter and only five in the second half.

At halftime, defensive coordinator Gary Andersen acknowledged he got after the defense a little bit.

"They challenged themselves, I challenged them and I think we reacted well to that challenge," Andersen said. " ... The bottom line is we controlled the line of scrimmage in the second half."

Utah did so without starting tackle Lei Talamaivoa, who broke his leg in the first half and was replaced by true freshman Sealver Siliga.

His collegiate debut was part of a process, Andersen added, where the defense needed to grow up as the game progressed.

Whittingham said controlling the line of scrimmage and tackling better were the keys to success on defense.

"Coach 'A' gave us a halftime speech that we all had to live up to," said linebacker Stevenson Slyvester, who led the Utes with nine tackles. "He really got on us and we just lived up to it in the second half."

The Utes added a little trickery and more points early in the fourth when running back Matt Asiata completed a 32-yard touchdown pass to Jereme Brooks.

"The play came out of nowhere," Asiata said. "When the play happened, I was so scared. I just wanted the touchdown."

Sakoda's sixth extra point kick made it 42-14 with 13:33 remaining.

Just over seven minutes later, the Rebels capped all scoring with a 10-yard pass from Omar Clayton to Phillip Payne.

It was far too little, far too late to alter the outcome of the Mountain West Conference opener for both teams.

"I think in the second half we resorted to some of our bad habits," UNLV coach Mike Sanford said. "That's not our identity but it's what happened."

UNLV scored on the game's first drive. The Rebels marched 80 yards on 11 plays to take a 7-0 lead. Summers, who capped things off with a 2-yard touchdown run, paced the effort with 43 yards on eight carries.

It proved to be the only score in the opening quarter.

While Utah's defense tightened and forced two punts, the offense failed to do much of anything. The Utes managed just 35 yards on 11 plays in the quarter and had only two first downs. Johnson completed two passes in the first 15 minutes — a 9-yarder to Brent Casteel and an interception to UNLV free safety Daryl Forte.

Things changed with 8:08 remaining in the second quarter. That's when Johnson was flushed out of the pocket and ran for a career-long 56 yards for a touchdown. Johnson joked that it showed he should have been in the Beijing Olympics.

Sakoda added the PAT to even the score at 7-7.

The touchdown ended a lengthy drought for the Utes against the Rebels. They had been outscored 51-0 over six quarters since Brett Ratliff teamed with Casteel on a 19-yard scoring strike in the second half of a 45-23 win over UNLV on Oct. 28, 2006 — a span of 678 days without a point in the series.

A major momentum shift, however, failed to initially accompany the drought-buster.

UNLV retaliated with a sustained drive on the ensuing drive. The nine-play sequence included a 45-yard pass from quarterback Omar Clayton to Phillip Payne and set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Summers.

Trailing 14-7, Utah knotted things up with 51.6 seconds remaining in the half on a 2-yard run by Asiata and an extra point by Sakoda. The Utes took just over three minutes to move 80 yards on nine plays. Johnson warmed up with several key completions on the drive. His passing numbers improved to 6-of-11 for 74 yards following the score.

The game-tying drive was kept alive when a call on the field was overturned by the replay official, who ruled that running back Darrell Mack's knee had touched the ground before a fumble that the Rebels recovered on the UNLV 43.

E-mail: [email protected]