SALT LAKE CITY — BYU coach Kalani Sitake rolled the dice Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium and the Utah defense made sure they turned up snake-eyes.
Utah beat BYU 20-19 after Sitake sent his offense out onto the field for a two-point conversion and the win with 18 seconds remaining. Cougar quarterback Taysom Hill, who had just scored on a 7-yard scramble, took the conversion snap and tried a draw up the middle. But the Utes were waiting for the run and stuffed Hill 3-yards short of the goal line. The stop sparked a celebration for Utah, which captured its sixth straight victory over BYU in the intense “Holy War” rivalry.
“I told the guys that if we score a touchdown, we are going for two so stay on the field,” Sitake said. “Utah made a play and we didn’t. I love the ball being in Taysom’s hands. He had a couple of options and it just ended up the way that it did, but I think Utah just made a great play. I’d do it again.”
Holding a slim 17-13 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Utes embarked on a clock-killing, yardage-chewing drive that lasted over 11 minutes. On fourth-and-short inside the 5-yard line, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham elected to push the lead to 20-13 with an Andy Phillips field goal with 2:47 to play.
“That drive at the end with the field goal, that’s who we can be,” Whittingham said. “I really thought about going for it on that last fourth down, but we made the decision to kick the field goal and make them get a touchdown.”
The Cougars took over after a touchback and countered with a drive that went 75 yards in 14 plays. Hill rushed for 26 of those yards and passed for the other 54, completing passes to Jonah Trinnaman, Mitchell Juergens, Nick Kurtz and Moroni Laulu-Pututau.
Following Hill’s TD run, Sitake took a timeout to consider his options. The first-year head coach for BYU elected to try for the two points and the win. But the Utes blitzed the A-gap and met Hill before he could get a head of steam up and the quarterback was stopped well short of the goal line. Utah quarterback Troy Williams then kneeled out the clock to improve the Utes to 2-0 on the season.
“Good game. Just really a hard-fought game and very entertaining,” Sitake said. “Congratulations to Utah for getting the win. I’m really, really proud of the guys at the end of the game, being able to come back and score. Obviously, it didn’t work out for us, but we’ll keep working.”
The game started in similar fashion to the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl for Utah, with defensive back Sunia Tauteoli picking off a tipped pass and running it back for a touchdown. Utah’s 7-0 lead came just six seconds into the contest and was a harbinger of things to come in a game that had nine turnovers.
“This rivalry has had so many of these games that come down to the last series, the last play, and this one was no different,” Whittingham said. “We definitely dodged a bullet turning over six times. You don’t win a lot of football games turning it over six times. We had a few takeaways of our own, maybe three. I’m proud of our resiliency.”
BYU took advantage of two of those turnovers over the next 10 minutes by scoring a pair of field goals off the foot of Jake Oldroyd.
The Cougars took their first lead of the game with 4:06 left in the second quarter when Hill escaped down the left sideline for a 39-yard touchdown run. That capped a 5-play, 80-yard drive that came on the heels of Kai Nacua’s interception of Williams in the end zone and made it 13-7, BYU.
Williams atoned for the pick by marching his Utes 73 yards in 10 plays late in the half. Williams connected with Tim Patrick from 21-yards out to cap the drive. The score came with just 17 seconds left in the half and gave Utah a 14-13 advantage at intermission.
The only scoring in the third quarter came on a Phillips 47-yard field goal. Phillips has yet to miss a field goal this season.
The game was intense, but sloppy. The teams combined for 19 penalties for 197 yards, including a couple of targeting calls against BYU defensive backs in which both Nacua and Austin McChesney were ejected from the game.
Sitake was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after the Nacua ejection, giving Utah 30 yards in one play. But the Cougars defense picked Williams off inside the 5-yard line on the next play late in the third quarter.
The total yardage was close in the game, with Utah outgaining BYU 363-328. The Utes were 6 for 12 on third downs, with BYU converting 5 of 14. Both quarterbacks threw three interceptions.
Troy McCormick led Utah with 62 rushing yards, while Williams passed for 194 on 14 of 23 attempts.
BYU got 87 rushing yards from QB Hills. Running back Jamaal Williams had 58 yards on 12 carries, but was notably absent from the lineup in the fourth quarter. Sideline reports had Williams complaining of flu-like symptoms.
The final stop on the two-point conversion try was the ultimate moment in the game and Whittingham said his defense was ready.
“It’s what we expected,” he said. “I talked with Coach [Morgan] Scalley and we loaded up the line of scrimmage and brought them all. The first guy missed and Hunter Dimick terminated it at the end.”
Utah is at San Jose State next Saturday night (8:30 MDT kickoff) while BYU will play its first home game Saturday night when UCLA visits LaVell Edwards Stadium (8:15 p.m. kickoff).
Notes: The BYU-Utah game has been decided by seven points or less in 18 of the last 23 meetings … The attendance of 46,915 was the fifth-largest crowd in school history and the 40th straight sellout at Rice-Eccles Stadium … Sixteen different players caught passes in the game (nine for BYU and seven for Utah).
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