Statistically speaking, the Utah Utes had no business winning Saturday's overtime game against Air Force.
The numbers weren't pretty. They had the ball for almost 18 minutes less than the Falcons did and managed only eight first downs.
Utah failed to convert on 10 third-down situations, fumbled six times (losing two) and gave up 254 rushing yards.
In the end, though, the only thing that mattered was the final score: Utes 23, Falcons 16.
"We came up with a good effort. Air Force came out and ran hard and played tough, disciplined football," said Utah defensive end Koa Misi. "But we were ready for it and played with a lot of strength and toughness."
The Utes, he noted, expected a dogfight and that's exactly what they got.
"I'm very, very proud of our players for matching that toughness and discipline, hanging in their for the full 60 minutes, and finding a way to win in the end," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
While acknowledging that the offense needs to be more productive, he pointed out that Air Force has one of the top defensive units in the nation.
"This is a defense that hasn't yielded much to anybody," Whittingham said. "So we knew it was going to be tough sledding going in."
And it was.
Utah's drives included eight that ended with punts and two fumbles.
Quarterback Terrance Cain, who completed 11-of-21 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown, was sacked three times.
Running back Eddie Wide and wide receiver David Reed accounted for the Utes' three touchdowns.
Wide, who finished with a game-high 121 yards rushing, gained yardage on two fumble recoveries — returning one for 44 yards and a touchdown. His other score was a 1-yard run in overtime.
Reed wound up with 149 yards on seven catches, including a 90-yard touchdown connection from Cain.
Big plays, though, weren't restricted to the offense. The defense stopped Air Force 12 times on third down and once on fourth. The Falcons had 75 rushing attempts, but averaged just 3.4 yards per carry.
Free safety Robert Johnson had a career-high 15 tackles, while linebacker Stevenson Sylvester and defensive tackle Dave Kruger finished with 13 apiece. Misi had 12 and tackle Sealver Siliga made 11 stops.
On special teams, Boo Andersen forced a fumble and Elijah Wesson recovered it — setting up a 31-yard field goal by kicker Joe Phillips in the third quarter.
All contributed to the overtime victory.
"I'm proud of how my team played," Whittingham said. "We keep finding ways to win at the end."
Utes on the air
Wyoming (4-3, 2-1) at No. 19 Utah (6-1, 3-0)
Saturday, 6 p.m.
TV: The Mtn.
Radio: 700 AM
e-mail: [email protected]