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SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah and BYU are familiar to dramatic endings, particularly with a field goal deciding the end of the game. Just two years ago, the Utes salvaged a win after Brandon Burton blocked a BYU field goal. And Saturday's game was no different, ending in dramatic fashion.
Leading by 17 points going into the fourth quarter, the Utes allowed the Cougars to cut the lead to three points with just under four minutes left in the game. After stalling on offense, due in large part to the Cougars defense, Utah was forced to punt the ball with just more than a minute left in the game.
BYU senior quarterback Riley Nelson had impossible odds against him, down three, facing a 92-yard drive and no timeouts. After slowly moving the ball up field and taking a lot of time off the clock, Nelson faced a fourth-and-12 situation and the game on the line. Nelson found an open receiver Cody Hoffman for a 47-yard gain and good field position to tie the game.
The situation was reminiscent of the 2007 game where BYU quarterback Max Hall found receiver Austin Collie on fourth-and-18, which led to BYU defeating the Utes 17-10.
However, a pass by Nelson was later deflected by the Utes, and the game appeared to be over. After the chaos of Utah fans rushing the field, the refs declared one second left in regulation, giving the Cougars one shot at a field goal attempt. The 51-yard field goal attempt was blocked, but was called back because fans prematurely rushed the field, giving the Cougars an extra 15 yards to work with.
It could have gone to overtime, but I've got a policy that I never complain about the refs. It's a fruitless, pointless way to operate. I just don't do that.
"I guess the clock thing: okay. The blocked kick: in all my experience in football, that would have been a no-call," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. "But then we lined up and did it again."
With another "miracle" game hanging in the balance, BYU switched up placekickers, going with Riley Stephenson for a 36-yard field goal attempt. The kick, however, hit the left upright, ending the Cougars' many attempts.
"The end result was what we wanted, but a little bit of drama at the end there," Whittingham added.
But what would have happened if either field goal attempt went in? The obvious answer is a tie game, but who has the momentum going into overtime? Would Utah fall short in overtime two weeks in a row?
"It could have gone to overtime, but I've got a policy that I never complain about the refs. It's a fruitless, pointless way to operate," Whittingham said of the calls made at the end of the game. "I just don't do that."
While the answer is speculative at best, Utah would have likely felt most of the pressure. After squandering a 17-point lead, the emotion of the game could have been the deciding factor in overtime.
"It really was an emotional swing after we thought we won the game the first time, and then putting the one second back on the clock," Utah corner Moe Lee said. "We just had to continue and fight through."
While it's pointless to rehash the what-ifs of a game, both teams fought hard for a much-needed victory. As a No. 25-ranked BYU, the Cougars need every win possible for a chance to advance to a BCS bowl game at the end of the season. Utah needed a win after losing to in-state rival Utah State to help gain momentum as the team transitions to the Pac-12 schedule.
"Riding high after a big rivalry win, you definitely have got to take momentum in there with us to Arizona State," Utah quarterback Jon Hays said. "That's what we've got to do."
A made field goal from BYU could have been the deciding factor for both teams as the season progresses. While it's hard to put stock into a single game, momentum is a major key to the success of a team's season. BYU faces a difficult turn around, traveling to Boise State next Thursday, while the Utes begin their difficult Pac-12 schedule Saturday.