Marty Johnson goes over the top to score against Air Force in the fourth quarter. Johnson finished the day with four touchdowns.
Sept. 25, 2004
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Marty Johnson was more excited about winning four games than he was about scoring four times in one of them.
Johnson tied a school record with four rushing touchdowns and No. 14 Utah held off Air Force 49-35 Saturday, giving the Utes their best start in 10 years.
"I think three of them were from the 1-yard line. If I get the ball on the 1-yard line, the way my line blocks I'm supposed to score. That's my job," Johnson said.
Actually, only one of his touchdowns came from that close, but he went in from the 2 twice and his longest TD of the day was from the 8. It's been five years since a Utah player ran for four TDs in a game and 10 years since the Utes opened a season 4-0.
Five different Utes scored Saturday as they began defense of last season's Mountain West Conference championship with a victory.
"It's hard to stop us when they don't know who to key on," said Johnson, who had 21 carries for 72 yards.
Alex Smith ran for a touchdown and passed for two more. Smith completed 13 of 23 passes for 260 yards and had 13 carries for 84 yards.
The Utes are off to their first 4-0 start since 1994, when they went 10-2 and finished the season ranked 10th. But Utah needed to rally from an early deficit after the Falcons (2-2, 1-1) scored the first two touchdowns of the game.
"I was in panic mode. You can't get behind Air Force," Utah coach Urban Meyer said.
Utah's answer to the two scores was five touchdowns in a row, but that wasn't enough to put away anything in this rivalry. The Falcons (2-2, 1-1) got back within a touchdown but no closer as they turned the ball over three times.
"We are not discouraged by this loss - disappointed, but not discouraged," Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry said. "We thought we could win this game."
DeBerry was frustrated by the end and got a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Utah's Ryan Smith intercepted a pass while going out of bounds late in the fourth quarter. DeBerry was still upset about a fumble at the end of the third quarter that led to one of Johnson's touchdowns and was restrained by his assistants as he yelled at the officials.
"The officials didn't beat us. We had good opportunities to win the game," DeBerry said.
Six of the last seven games in the series were decided by a touchdown or less, including last year's 45-43 victory for the Utes in triple overtime. And this one also wasn't a runaway, although it could have been a few times.
Shaun Carney ran 21 times for 95 yards and three touchdowns and completed nine of 13 passes for 158 yards and a score to lead Air Force. He led an 80-yard scoring drive on the opening possession as the Falcons took advantage of a listless start by Utah.
"It's hard to get that speed of the option in practice. I think we were a little caught off guard on that first series," linebacker Spencer Toone said. "It was really scary going down 14-0 but we kept our composure and we were able to come back."
Utah scored touchdowns on four straight possessions before Air Force finally ended the Utes' onslaught on Carney's 6-yard touchdown pass to Carsten Stahr with 5:28 left in the third. That cut the lead to 35-21, then the Falcons forced Alex Smith to fumble and recovered at the Utah 19.
Carney punched it in from the 2 to cut Utah's lead to a touchdown with 2:14 remaining in the third quarter.
"Air Force is tough," Toone said. "Whenever we play Air Force, it just comes down to the wire."
But that was as close as the Falcons got. Carney fumbled and Utah recovered at the Air Force 42 late in the third, and the Utes drove for another touchdown by Johnson. He is the first Utah player to run for four touchdowns in a game since Mike Anderson did it against UNLV in 1999.
Johnson got Utah to 14-7 on a 2-yard run, then the Utes struck twice in the final three minutes of the half with a pair of scores on just four plays.
Smith hit Paris Warren in stride along the Utah sideline and Warren took it for a 65-yard touchdown to tie it at 14 with 2:37 left in the first half. The Utes got the ball right back when Ryan Smith stripped the ball from Anthony Butler and Toone recovered at the Air Force 21.