SALT LAKE CITY — Utah football fended off a late rally and defeated Colorado, 20-14, in the regular-season finale for both teams on Saturday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The Ute defense forced four turnovers, intercepting three passes and creating a fumble, while also producing six sacks, four from Viliseni Fauonuku.
“I am so proud of our seniors and so very happy for those guys,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “They deserve this. They deserve to go out on a winning note to end the regular season. Co-champs of the Pac-12 South – that is a great accomplishment for our seniors. It was a nine-win regular season, which is an all-time high since joining the Pac-12. I just can’t say enough good things about those guys. The leadership, their work ethic, their determination, they have really led us through this journey.”
Utah held Colorado to just 49 yards rushing, 28 through the first three quarters. The Buffaloes were 1-3 in the red zone and also had a field goal blocked by Ute defensive end Kylie Fitts.
Marcus Williams had his team-leading fifth interception in the first quarter while Cory Butler-Byrd added another later in the half. Gionni Paul had his fourth pick of the season in the third quarter and led Utah with 13 tackles.
The offensive star for the Utes was running back Joe Williams who ran for a career-high 187 yards (34 carries) and scored his first career touchdown.
“We had a good week of practice and coach Whitt instilled into our minds on Monday that we really had to give this game our all because it was for the seniors,” Williams said. “For me, it was just doing what I had to do – either running or helping out on pass protection.”
Colorado started the game by driving down the field before Fitts’ block of a 31-yard field goal by CU’s Zane Gonzalez. The Utes answered with a 13-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by a Travis Wilson 16-yard touchdown pass to Kenneth Scott.
Wilson would eventually surpass the 2,000-yard mark for the season with 108 yards passing. Scott finished with three catches for a team-high 31 yards and his fourth touchdown reception of the year.
“It is definitely an emotional time, but I was glad that were able to get a win on our last game here,” Wilson said. “I couldn’t be more thankful and happier for all of the seniors on this team and us just going out the right way.”
The Buffaloes drove the ball down the field once again but were halted when Williams made a pick at the Utah six-yard line on third-and-goal
After a Ute fumble, Colorado could not capitalize and coughed it up themselves, turning the ball over at the Utah 44-yard line on a fourth-down play.
Andy Phillips’ first field goal of the day pushed the lead to double digits in the second quarter, 10-0. Colorado went three-and-out but a fumble on the punt return gave the ball back to the visitors.
Cade Aspay threw a 28-yard strike to Nelson Spruce to get Colorado on the scoreboard and cut the deficit to 10-7 at the halftime break.
Paul intercepted the very first offensive play for Colorado on its next possession and Phillips booted his second field goal of the day for a 20-7 Utah lead. Phillips is 13-for-13 on field goals under 40 yards and has 10-straight makes.
Colorado pulled within a possession with 4:13 remaining in regulation when Jordan Gehrke connected with Phillip Lindsay in the flat for a 16-yard touchdown.
After a three-and-out, Utah was forced to punt which set up a frantic final two minutes. Colorado moved the ball into Utah territory but Fauonuku stripped Gehrke and Jared Norris came up with the recovery.
Utah finishes the regular season with a 9-3 record, 6-3 in the Pac-12 and tied for a share of the Pac-12 South. Nine wins ties for the most Utah has had since joining the Pac-12 (9-4 in 2014) and six conference victories is the most that the Utes have had in Pac-12 play.
“The biggest disappointment was not being able to get one of these last two prior to this game, which would have really given us the outright championship and the chance to go to the Pac-12 Championship game next week,” Whittingham said. “That was tough to take, but we have no one else to blame but ourselves and we own that. This team has been very resilient and to come back and get a win today was good. Ending the regular season on a positive note was very important to us.”
Utah will now wait and see which bowl it will be selected to play in with announcements being made next Sunday, Dec. 6.
Stats: Utah 20, Colorado 14
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