TUCSON, Ariz. — As the 10th-ranked Utah Utes got off to their best Pac-12 start since joining the conference in 2011, head coach Kyle Whittingham noted a “recurring theme.” He praised his team for finding a different way to win each week.
On Saturday, however, they failed to do it again — falling at Arizona 37-30 in double overtime.
“It was a disappointing loss and you have to give credit to Arizona,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “They played well and made a couple more plays than we did. I think that made the difference.”
The Utes (8-2, 5-2) entered the game with a one-game lead over UCLA and USC in the Pac-12 South. They left it in a tie with USC. The Trojans (7-3, 5-2) hold the tiebreaker because of last month’s 42-24 win in Los Angeles. The Bruins (7-3, 4-3) had a chance to join them but dropped a 31-27 decision to Washington State in the final seconds late Saturday.
The Utes close out the season with home games against UCLA and Colorado over the next two weeks. Saturday’s game with the Bruins is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
“Those games are going to be really important. Any team coming into Utah knows it is going to be a tough environment,” said cornerback Brian Allen. “We look at the crowd as our 12th man out there. So I think finishing these last two games at home could be huge accomplishments for us.”
It remains to be seen, however, if it’ll take away the sting associated with coming up short in the road finale.
After kickers Andy Phillips (40 yards) and Casey Skowron (35 yards) exchanged field goals in the first overtime, Arizona took the lead for good in the second extra session on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Jerrard Randall to Nate Phillips.
The Utes failed to score on their turn — despite converting on a fourth-down play — bringing the late-night affair to an end.
Utah trailed 10-0 less than six minutes into the contest. Arizona scored on its first two possessions to put the Utes in their biggest game-opening deficit of the season.
The Wildcats bookended a Utah punt with a 47-yard field goal by Skowron and a 7-yard touchdown throw from Anu Solomon to Samajie Grant.
Devontae Booker countered for the Utes with a 1-yard TD run on the ensuing drive. It capped a 13-play, 75-yard march that took 6:25 off the clock.
Arizona fired right back, though, and took a 17-7 advantage when Solomon and receiver Cayleb Jones teamed on a 17-yard scoring strike with 1:16 remaining in the opening quarter.
Utah then weathered an interception of Travis Wilson by safety Jamar Allah. The Utes wound up preventing the Wildcats from cashing in on the miscue by eventually forcing a loss on downs on the 33-yard-line. Utah wound up driving into field goal range where Phillips connected from 34 yards to make it 17-10 with 5:39 to go in the half.
Both teams would put more points on the board before the half was complete. Skowron added a 40-yard field goal to Arizona’s lead. Utah followed with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Kenneth Scott in the final minute. Scott kept the drive by drawing two pass interference calls along the way.
Arizona held a 269-218 edge in total offense at halftime. The Wildcats, though, only had one more first down (14-13) than the Utes.
Unlike the previous three years when Arizona rolled over Utah with a ground attack that amassed a combined total of 918 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing, the Wildcats attacked the Utes via the air over the first two quarters. Solomon completed 12 passes for 186 yards and two TDs.
When played resumed after the break, however, Utah flexed its muscle in all three aspects of the game — beginning with a 36-yard kickoff return by Britain Covey. Two plays later, the offense provided a go-ahead score with a 59-yard touchdown toss from Wilson to tight end Harrison Handley.
Shortly thereafter, the defense followed suit with a big contribution. Cornerback Brian Allen picked off a pass by Solomon in the end zone as the Utes preserved their 24-20 lead early in the third quarter. It later swelled to seven when Phillips added a 38-yard field goal.
A major momentum swing, though, failed to materialize.
It took Arizona less than two minutes to even things up at 27-27. Solomon completed two passes for 68 yards before concluding the short drive with a 6-yard touchdown run. Skowron added the game-tying PAT — setting the stage for the dramatic finish.
Locked in fourth-quarter tie, both teams turned the ball over down the stretch. Nickel back Justin Thomas picked off a pass for Utah, while nose tackle Parker Zellers recovered a fumble for Arizona.
Overtime ensued when neither squad was able to capitalized on the takeaways.
“This is obviously a very good win for our program,” said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez. “Our guys battled for more than 60 minutes against a very good and well-coached football team.”
The Wildcats (6-5, 3-5) became bowl eligible with the victory.
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