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'It's like a chess match': After trying season, Utes only focused on Pac-12 title

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY β€” As Britain Covey trotted onto the field for the first punt of the game Friday, the crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium broke out in a chant.

"Covey! Covey! Covey!"

How could they not after the 5-foot-8 slot receiver single-handily made the highlight play of Utah's dominant win over Oregon a week prior in the same stadium before an electric fan base. The mere fact that he was back again for a possible encore was worthy of a celebration to those in attendance.

In all the years the dynamic punt returner has been with the program, dating back to 2015, the crowd has known what the former Timpview High grad could do: He's slippery, shifty and quick on his feet. And on the day the team recognized Covey and 18 other juniors and seniors, the fans celebrated in style with his own personalized chant.

It's no "Bad Moon Rising" being played before Cam Rising takes the field, but it was still music to Covey's ears.

"I don't let myself kinda get in that head space, but today I just listened to it," Covey said as he beamed with pride. "I was thinking of directing it like a chorus or something because I it was beautiful and I loved it. And I just thought, 'Man, I love the stadium; I love the fans.' So it means a lot that they would do that. Normally I don't indulge in that, but today a little bit I did."

The game itself was anything but dynamic for the home team, who pulled away for a 28-13 win over a four-win Colorado team that was without several key players on both sides of the ball. It was a scheduled game, but one that might as well have been absent from the schedule after Utah locked up the South division title after a win over Oregon.

And Covey was honest about the situation: Utah overlooked Colorado with a Pac-12 Championship game on the horizon.

How could they not?

"Well, I think it's obvious we didn't play to our best, but at this point that doesn't matter," Covey said. "We sent the upperclassman out right on Rice-Eccles. It's nice to be able to just focus on what we really want to focus on right now. It took a lot to really focus on this game throughout the week because our whole entire offseason we're talking about Pac-12 championships, so we are excited to be able to look forward now.

"We're not even going to celebrate this victory β€” like the moment we get home, we're just preparing."

The celebration of going 8-1 in conference play is now just a footnote to one of the most difficult seasons on record for the program, and one that has taken tremendous fortitude to play through the tragedy of losing two teammates, Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe, in less than a year's time.

"I think that we've taken probably the hardest thing that can happen and we've turned it into something beautiful," Covey said, reflecting on the trying season. "We've taken a tragedy and turned it into something beautiful. I'll always miss those guys, but we have great memories of them, and there's a sort of reverence whenever you talk about them, but I think we're getting to the point now where we just celebrate them β€” we celebrate and we honor what they represent.

"It's more than just two guys, it's the whole entire team, it's the whole entire university. I think I'm at the point now when I'm asked about them, I don't even get sad. I just celebrate it."

But the job isn't finished yet.

All the hard work to get to this point in the season means little in the program's eyes. Utah has already been to the conference title game twice and been on the losing side in both instances. The moment was just too big and the Utes couldn't rise for the occasion.

But the Utes are hoping for third time's the charm as the preparation starts without even knowing who the opponent will be. Washington State beat Washington to claim the Apple Cup Friday, making it a two-team race in the North division.

If Oregon beats Oregon State Saturday, Utah will will see the Ducks in the title game. If Oregon State wins, it's an opponent in Washington State that forced Utah into seven fumbles and is trending upward down the stretch of the regular season. A win over either program will take more than just being physically ready, Covey said.

"We've been in two Pac-12 Championship games; we've lost both of them," he said. "I think we've got a good mindset and knowing what it takes. That game is different than any other game. I mean, it's like a chess match. I feel like you've got a whole season of film on your opponent and it's just as much mental as it is physical, so I think that's something that we can do better.

"This year is focused on the mental side of things. But man, I'm excited. We've been waiting for this since the last time we were there."

And though Utah's players had some wondering eyes going into Friday's game, the conference title game is the realization of more than two years' worth of effort. The trials and triumphs along the way only make the end prize all the better.

But now, a Rose Bowl appearance hangs in the balance.


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