A poor offensive showing helped negate a strong defensive showing for Utah in a sloppy game on a perfect late fall day in Boulder Saturday afternoon as the Utes defeated Colorado 42-35 to improve to 5-7 on the season, and 2-6 in Pac-12 play.
"Five and seven sounds a lot better than four and eight," said Trevor Reilly in post-game remarks.
Things started off well enough for the Utes, who, in their first defensive series, intercepted a CU pass at the 29 yard line, and one play later capitalized with a 16 yard touchdown pass from Travis Wilson to Dres Anderson to take an early 7-0 lead.
Trevor Reilly stepped in front of a Colorado pass to start the game with a return of 13 yards to the Colorado 16 yard line set up Utah's first score and was the first of two interceptions on the day for Kalani Sitake's defense Saturday.
"We owed them from last year. They [messed] things up for us last year, or we did by losing last year," explained Reilly. "I guess this is kind of turning into a rivalry game; two close games in two years, crazy games. So yeah, I guess it's kind of a rivalry now. I think they played the hardest all season against us today."
Sophomore safety Eric Rowe recovered a fumble forced by true freshman linebacker Jason Whittingham, which accounted for three Utah points off a Coleman Petersen field goal in the waning seconds of the first quarter to put the Utes up 10-7.
Rowe completed his game with an interception which set up a touchdown drive capped off by running back Kelvin York putting the Utes up 17-7 at the 3:43 mark of the second quarter, which gave the Buffaloes just enough time to answer back with a touchdown score of their own.
"We had a good week of practice, and working hard on our ball skills, and it showed up in the game," said Rowe. "Three picks by the secondary and one for the linebackers, that's what we need, more turnovers."
In a see-saw game wrought with penalties, neither team was able to gain any offensive rhythm, as evidenced by the Utes' 3-12 third down conversion rate and Colorado's 6-16 third down conversion rate.
Combined with play calling, which was questionable for the Utes at times, freshman quarterback Travis Wilson was not at his best Saturday, going 13-25 and 128 yards and 1 TD. Wilson also added a rushing touchdown and gained 17 yards on three carries.
The one thing Utah did have going for it offensively was the run game, as John White rushed for 168 yards and 1 TD to cap off his senior season. Coming into the game, White needed 127 yards to reach his second consecutive 1,000 yard season to become Utah's first rusher to achieve the feat.
"It means a lot to me, but it means more to my team. They got me there. Without the offensive line, tight ends, receivers and quarterbacks and all the guys that helped out blocking, I couldn't get there," White shared the credit.
The game was a wild, sloppy affair complete with six total turnovers, five of which were forced by Utah, two returns for touchdowns, and one blocked field goal by Utah's Joe Kruger.
The biggest stat of the day was Utah's scoring when inside the red zone, capitalizing on six of six opportunities, with four touchdowns and two field goals by Coleman Petersen.
Petersen's second successful attempt came in the first possession of the second quarter, a 37 yarder, putting the Utes up 20-14.
In the second half, Utah came out with no answers, failing to score on the opening possession and going down 21-20 after an 80 yard drive that culminated in a touchdown at the 8:46 mark of the third.
The remainder of the third quarter didn't bode well for the Utes and what little remained of the Utes' season looked bleak as Colorado would strike again, seemingly putting a dagger in the game. At points in the second half, Utah seemed to have no answers for a Colorado team that hasn't been impressive all season long.
Colorado would score again in the third quarter, and heading into the final quarter, Colorado led Utah 28-20.
Fans in attendance got a show in the fourth quarter, as the teams would combine to score 29 points, resulting in Utah out-scoring the Buffs 22-7 in the last quarter of Pac-12 play.
Utah kicked off the offensive output with a 5:19, 12 play 75 yard drive for six points, and successfully executed the two point conversion, a pass from Jake Murphy to David Rolf to tie the game at 28.
On the first play after kickoff, senior Moe Lee intercepted the fourth Utah pass for a one yard return, putting the Ute offense at the Colorado 30 yard line. The Utes would capitalize with a touchdown to go up 35-28 with 8:41 left in the 2012 season, and the tide seemed overwhelmingly in Utah's favor.
Instead, Colorado's Marques Mosley deflated Utah's momentum with a 65 yard touchdown return off the Nick Marsh kickoff, tying the game up in the blink of an eye.
Inexplicably, Colorado kicked off to Reggie Dunn, who had previously returned four kickoffs for touchdowns in 2012. Saturday in Boulder, he decided to add a fifth, which put Utah right back up at 42-35.
"It was like a chess match all night. I was trying to figure it out. They would bloop it, so I would run up, then they would kick it deep and they wouldn't kick it deep," Dunn explained. "It was all kinds of crazy stuff going on. We just kept talking about if we got another chance, whatever we did, it finally worked and I got my hands on it, and we were all ready to go. I'm just happy it ended this way."
The crowd was treated to two electrifying returns for scores in the course of :13.
"That was unbelievable. The last game of my collegiate career, and to end the game with that was just unbelievable," said Dunn. "I'm so thankful for this team, I love all my guys and my kickoff return team, all the fans that came out and supported us. It was just a great way to go out."
The teams would trade empty possessions before Colorado embarked on a 41 yard drive when Utah punted to the Buffaloes with 4:52 left in the game. With the Colorado offense marching, previously struggling Brian Blechen sealed the game for the Utes with an interception at the Utah 34.
After a tough season, the team led by Ute seniors celebrated jubilantly with the few Utah fans who made the trip to Boulder, finishing appropriately and in keeping with tradition, by singing 'Utah Man', even without the Ute marching band to lead them.
As Utah improved to a 5-7 record, Saturday's win provides the very remote possibility of a bowl invitation should a a very specific chain of events play out over the remainder of the football season.