Utah 45, UNLV 23

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By DOUG ALDEN AP Sports Writer

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah didn't score in the first or fourth quarters against UNLV. With what the Utes did in the second and third periods, it didn't matter.

Utah scored two touchdowns in the final minute of the first half and added three more TDs in the third quarter to end a two-game losing streak by beating the Rebels 45-23 on Saturday.

"It's huge for us," said Brett Ratliff, who tied a career high with four touchdown passes. "It was real important for us to get this win today -- to come out and play like we did."

Brent Casteel caught three of Ratliff's touchdown passes and JJ Williams returned an interception 22 yards for a score for the Utes (5-4, 3-2 Mountain West), who have next weekend off and didn't want to go into the bye week any worse off than they had been.

"That's the only thing that can fix what ails you," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.

It was a good time to play UNLV (1-7, 0-4).

The Rebels lost their seventh straight and finished with 297 yards in coach Mike Sanford's return to Utah, where he was offensive coordinator two years ago in the Utes' 12-0 season. The Rebels had just 173 yards through three quarters and turned the ball over three times in the game.

"I don't know how many times we did turn the ball over, but it was too many. You just can't win doing that," Sanford said. "We competed and played hard, however, not in any way am I satisfied or pleased."

Rocky Hinds completed 25 of 35 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns for UNLV, but also had two interceptions that led to touchdowns for Utah.

Ratliff, who had thrown four interceptions in consecutive losses to Wyoming and New Mexico, had his best game since throwing four touchdowns against Georgia Tech in the Emerald Bowl to end last season.

He finished with as many touchdowns as incompletions, going 19-for-23 for 268 yards with no interceptions.

"I'd say that's a very efficient day," Whittingham said. "It looked like Brett was on track."

Utah couldn't afford another loss, especially against the struggling Rebels and having a week off before Colorado State visits on Nov. 11. After a scoreless first quarter, the Utes pulled away in the second and third.

UNLV didn't score a touchdown until early in the fourth quarter, when it was too late for any chance at a comeback.

"The O-line played great. The defense played great. The receivers -- everybody played a great game today," Ratliff said.

Utah's lead was only 10-3 until Ratliff scored on a 2-yard run with 59 seconds left in the second quarter.

UNLV could have run out the clock and taken the two-touchdown deficit into halftime, but Hinds threw it on first down and the throw was behind Casey Flair, who tipped the ball right to Utah's Malakai Mokofisi and Utah got the ball back at the 27.

"That's a great way to take pressure off your offense. Set them up with a short-field situation," Whittingham said. "That was a big momentum-type changing play."

Casteel ended the short drive with an over-the-shoulder catch for a 19-yard touchdown from Ratliff that put the Utes up 24-3 at halftime.

UNLV cut it to 24-6 early in the third quarter on Sergio Aguayo's second field goal of the game, then Utah answered with two more touchdowns in less than a minute.

Ratliff threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Colt Sampson with 8:55 left in the third quarter, then after the after the kickoff Hinds threw a pass right to Williams, who had a clear path to the end zone for a touchdown that put the Utes up 38-6.

Ratliff added another 19-yard touchdown pass to Casteel with 4:01 left in the third and Utah led 45-6 entering the fourth quarter.

Two touchdown passes from Hinds and a third field goal by Aguayo in the fourth quarter didn't make much of a difference.

UNLV hasn't won since the season opener against Idaho State.

"We have a lot of work to do," Sanford said. "My main statement is that we lost. We let the game get away from us in the second half."

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-10-28-06 1842MDT

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