PROVO — Utah linebacker Stevenson Sylvester and his teammates were hurting after Saturday's 26-23 overtime loss to BYU.
"It's real tough," said the senior captain, who paused when asked to go over the game-winning play. "I don't want to re-live it that much … It's crazy."
A 25-yard touchdown pass from Max Hall to tight end Andrew George capped another wild finish in a series marked by dramatic conclusions in four of the past five years.
After catching a short throw from Hall, George slipped between would-be tacklers Sylvester and Joe Dale.
"We had brackets on both tight ends but we got there late and they split the bracket," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
Utah had the ball first in overtime and took the lead when Joe Phillips made a 29-yard field goal, his fifth successful kick of the game.
It wasn't enough, though, to seal the deal. The game ended when George raced in the end zone a few minutes later.
"We came up a little short," Whittingham said. "Credit them for making the plays."
Things started off well for Utah.
The Utes jumped out to a 6-0 lead with scores on their first two possessions. Phillips capped the initial drive with a 39-yard field goal and the second with a 21-yard kick.
Both followed defensive stands that limited BYU to three plays and a punt.
Things changed, however, the next time the Cougars touched the ball. They ran 17 plays on a scoring drive that ended with a 28-yard field goal by Matt Payne.
Two Utah penalties helped put the Cougars on the board — unsportsmanlike conduct on the kickoff and a personal foul along the way.
With their lead cut to 6-3, the Utes opened the ensuing series with an 11-yard throw from Jordan Wynn to David Reed. The freshman quarterback was 7-for-7 passing at the time.
The quest for continued perfection, though, dried up.
Wynn wound up completing just 14 of his next 34 throws and threw an interception late in the first half.
Whittingham rated the true freshman's performance as not bad.
"He's got a bright future ahead of him," Whittingham said. "He didn't make every throw. He missed some open receivers, but I'm proud of the kid."
Wynn, he continued, showed poise and character under duress.
"I'm not too happy," Wynn said. "It's definitely a tough loss, and one that's going to stick with me for the rest of the year."
Utah's offense sputtered and failed to score in the second and third quarters. BYU, meanwhile, overcame the deficit and built a 13-6 halftime lead. A two-yard touchdown run by Harvey Unga was sandwiched between field goals of 28 and 37 yards from Mitch Payne. The second one came with four seconds remaining in the half, and followed Andrew Rich's pick of Wynn.
The Cougars added to their advantage when play resumed. A one-yard touchdown toss from Hall to Manase Tonga and the accompanying PAT made it 20-6 with 10:11 left to the play in the third.
Utah rallied in the fourth, however, and forced overtime.
A 29-yard field goal by Phillips tied the score with 40 seconds left in regulation. He sparked the comeback with a 31-yarder early in the quarter. A single-yard touchdown run by Eddie Wide followed 7 1/2 minutes later. Then came a successful two-point conversion when Wynn teamed with Reed on a pass near the back of the end zone.
"It's been a dream of mine to play in this game my whole life," Phillips said. "To go out there and be able to go out there and perform well was a dream come true. The outcome wasn't planned. But I was proud of all my brothers on the team and the effort they gave."
Whittingham was also pleased, especially with his defense. The Utes held Hall to just 12-of-32 passing for 134 yards and sacked him four times.
"Our defense stepped up in the second half," said linebacker Mike Wright, who topped the Utes with 11 tackles. "I'm very proud of how our football team played. I felt that we played very well. We played good enough to win this game."
Utah broke up seven passes and made six tackles-for-loss in the game. Bright spots on offense include Eddie Wide's 114 yards rushing and Aiona Key's game-high 10 receptions.55 comments on this story
The problem, Whittingham emphasized, was the Utes settled for field goals (five) instead of touchdowns (one).
"We just didn't execute well enough to get in the end zone," he said.
That, and an excessive number of penalties (12 for 113 yards) — including several personal fouls and unsportsmanlike calls — proved costly.
The outcome led to a somber Utah locker room.
"It's tearing their guts out," Whittingham said. "You invest so much."
The Utes have a team meeting Monday and plan to practice two or three times next week while awaiting their official bowl invitation.