Westlee Tonga reaches for the ball with one hand. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Sept. 16, 2012
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Two years ago, BYU saw its hopes of winning in Salt Lake City dashed by a last-second blocked field goal.
Saturday night, the 25th-ranked Cougars had two late chances only to have the same result, this time a 24-21 loss to the Utah Utes.
"Where do I begin?" UTAH head coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We should be 4-1 because we won this game three times."
Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei blocked Justin Sorensen's 51-yard attempt with 1 second remaining after the officials put time back on the clock following a third-down incompletion.
The Cougars would get another shot, from 15 yards closer after a penalty for fans running onto the field too early.
Riley Stephenson's 36-yard attempt with no time left clanked off the left upright, sending the crowd onto the field to celebrate.
"I can't describe that ending," Utah quarterback Jon Hays said of a game that was tied at 7 at the half. "That's something I'll remember when I'm 85. That's the craziest finish I've ever been a part of and probably the craziest I've ever seen. I'm happy and proud of this team."
The win gave the Utes (2-1) a new outlook on the season, especially with USC's loss to Stanford and losses by fellow Pac-12 South foes Arizona State and Colorado.
The Utes benefitted from senior quarterback Jon Hays, a stout defense and some special team plays.
Hays passed for two touchdowns in his first start this season in place of Jordan Wynn, who suffered a career-ending shoulder injury in last week's OT loss to Utah State.
He opened the scoring with a 17-yard pass to Westlee Tonga, who tallied his first career TD reception.
Charles Henderson had a key 57-yard punt return in the first half to set up Hays' 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tonga, who made a one-handed grab over linebacker Kyle Van Noy.
Special teams continued to be game-changing later in the game, with Utah converting a fake punt on fourth-and-2 from its 24.
Hays was composed and tough, and his mobility helped. He started 7 of 10 for 86 yards and a touchdown as BYU took the early lead, and kept another first-quarter drive alive with a 14-yard pass on third-and-11, and 14-yard pass on third-and-10.
"Having a leadership role was nothing new to me," said Hays, chosen to start over freshman Travis Wilson just as he filled in for an injured Wynn last year. "It was just last year, deja vu, but I'm more prepared and my play showed. Now there are no more surprises."
Utah won despite being without starting free safety Eric Rowe (hamstring) and running back John White (ankle).
"We were tough, resilient and bounced back from a tough loss last week and played with grit and determination," Whittingham said. "The offense didn't get a lot of yards but (it) didn't turn the ball over either."