By Melissa Leeper
BYU suffered a disappointing overtime loss to rival University of Utah on Saturday, 41-34. Although the Cougars overcame a 21-point halftime deficit to force overtime, it wasn?t enough to beat the Utes.
?Disappointment is the first word that would come out of my mouth and resolve to do better is the next thought I have,? BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
In overtime, the Utes started with the ball. After an incompletion on first down, Utah quarterback Brett Ratliff completed a 25-yard TD pass to Travis LaTendresse, giving Utah a 41-34 lead.
It was BYU?s turn to try and reciprocate the touchdown. But after three plays failed to get the Cougars a first down, BYU faced a do-or-die fourth down. With one last try, BYU quarterback John Beck quickly released the ball to avoid a sack. He threw the ball high in hopes of some Cougar catching it. Wideout Michael Reed was the closest, but couldn?t quite make it to the ball, sealing the Utes? second straight victory over BYU at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Ratliff?s performance was a key component to Utah?s win. After starting quarterback Brian Johnson went down for the season with a knee injury last week against New Mexico, Ratliff stepped in for the Utes on Saturday in his first Division I start and delivered. He finished the day with 240 passing yards and four touchdowns, and consistently made big runs on key downs, rushing for 112 yards and a score.
For the Cougars (6-5, 5-3 in MWC), though, the season is likely not over. With six wins, BYU is bowl eligible for the first time in four years. Las Vegas Bowl representatives were at the game and were ready to extend an invitation to the Cougars to the bowl game if they had won. BYU must now wait to know its postseason fate, with a decision likely to be made sometime this week, possibly as early as today.
For Utah (6-5, 4-4 in conference), the win also made the Utes bowl eligible. They are a likely candidate to represent the Mountain West Conference in the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco.
During the first half of the game, BYU struggled to keep up with the Utah offense. The Cougar offense also fought to break through Utah?s tight man-to-man defense, and Utah forged its way to a 24-3 halftime lead.
?I think the first half ? what we learned as a football team and what I learned ? is that I didn?t have our football team on even keel,? Mendenhall said. ?They were playing outside of their assignment and outside of their technique. Their emotions overrode and overshadowed playing football.?
BYU quarterback John Beck said the team was finally able to turn around the momentum by focusing on executing plays. Instead of getting wrapped up in the rivalry and the emotion, the team focused on executing plays the way like they had in practice.
?Our team battled back, reflective of who they are,? Mendenhall said.
After the 21-point lead Utah had over the Cougars at the half, the Cougars came out in full force to get points on the board. Their first touchdown of the third quarter came after a long struggle down the field, but paid off as Brown rushed the ball five yards for the first Cougar touchdown of the game.
This touchdown perpetuated the Cougar momentum and BYU was at it again. Brown rushed 64 yards down the BYU sideline for another Cougar touchdown just minutes later, cutting the Utes? lead to 24-17.
By the end of the game, Brown had rushed for a total of 154 yards, making this the 11th time he gained 100 yards or more on the ground, a Cougar record.
Utah responded in a big way on its next drive, despite being plagued by turnovers. On 3rd-and-23, Ratliff hit Brian Hernandez for a 48-yard TD pass to make it a 14-point game.
The Cougars once again bounced back by pushing the ball up the field. Eventually Beck made a 13-yard pass to Todd Watkins for another Cougar touchdown to bring BYU within seven at 31-24.
Following a Utah field goal and a Matt Allen touchdown reception for the Cougars, BYU drove down the field again and tied the game with 4:50 left on a 37-yard Jared McLaughlin field goal.
Neither team was successful in scoring in the last few minutes, so the teams continued the battle in overtime.
Although it was a disappointing loss, the team learned a lot from the experience and hopes to use that knowledge to execute bigger goals.
?Our goal isn?t just to beat Utah,? BYU linebacker Cameron Jensen said. ?Our goal is a lot more than that.?