No. 23 Utah 17, BYU 16
Brandon Burton's hands were stinging. In this case, the pain was good.
''Coach told me I needed to block that kick,'' the Utah junior said of what would have been a last-second, game-winning field goal Saturday by rival BYU.
Burton obliged, coming around left end to knock down a 42-yard attempt by Mitch Payne to preserve a wild 17-16 victory for the 23rd-ranked Utes in their final game with the Cougars as Mountain West Conference rivals.
''I came full speed and laid out. I got all of it,'' Burton said.
The full impact of what he had just done hit him a few seconds later when thousands of red-clad Utah fans swarmed the field and piled on Burton in celebration of the come-from-behind victory - one that could send the 10-2 Utes (7-1 Mountain West) to the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas.
''We're a comeback squad,'' Burton said of Utah, which started the season 8-0 and climbed as high as No. 6 in the national rankings before back-to-back losses to TCU and Notre Dame. ''We never give up. This team has so much fight.''
Utah, which will join the Pac-12 Conference next year, showed it a week ago when it rallied from a 20-3 second-quarter deficit to beat San Diego State 38-34.
On Saturday, the Utes were down 13-0, with their starting quarterback on the bench, and their running game in the tank.
Jordan Wynn, who took a pounding as a freshman starter last year in the 26-23 overtime loss to BYU in Provo, got a second chance.
Actually, he'd get third and fourth chances.
He was reinserted in the game after Terrance Cain threw his second interception in as many possessions after taking over in the second half.
Wynn completed a critical third-and-10 pass from the BYU 34 to set up Joe Phillips' 40-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Then, when BYU counterpart Jake Heaps fumbled a handoff a minute later, Utah was back in the game.
Wynn struck immediately, passing 37 yards to DeVonte Christopher, who made an acrobatic catch in the end zone to pull Utah within 13-10 with 13:46 remaining.
''I wasn't playing well and the coaches need to do what they had to do,'' Wynn said. ''But it definitely motivated me and gave me an extra push and I played much better when I went back in there.''
Payne kicked his third field goal with 7:38 remaining to bump BYU's lead to 16-10.
After that, nothing went according to script.
The ball bounced Utah's way twice more, first when a shanked punt hit the leg of a BYU player and Greg Bird recovered for Utah with 6:24 left, and a second time after Wynn was intercepted by Brandon Bradley.
Tight end Kendrick Moeai tackled Bradley during his return and forced a fumble. Utah got it back.
''That play defines our team,'' Moeai said. ''We have determination to get things done however we can. We did not want to be upset today.''
Wynn (13 of 30 for 199 yards) completed a 6-yard pass to Matt Asiata on the next play, then found tight end Dallin Rogers open down the middle for a 29-yard gain to the BYU 3.
Asiata, who had only three carries for seven yards in the first half and finished with 24, took it in from there on a a pitch right and cut back.
BYU, which will become an independent in football and join the West Coast Conference in other sports starting next year, had one final chance.
Heaps (22 of 37 for 228 yards), who has made steady progress through the year despite his youth, had the Cougars on the verge of the upset.
He completed 4 of 4 passes for 50 yards, driving the Cougars from his own 21 to the Utah 22, to put Payne in position with 4 seconds left.
''It was a dream,'' Payne said. ''That's something I've wanted my whole life. I just wish I could have seen the ball sail through those pipes.''
It wasn't meant to be, much to the delight of the sellout crowd of 45,272 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
''It was a hard-fought game that came down to the last play and we just couldn't make it happen,'' said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, who had been 48-1 when taking a lead into the fourth quarter.
''There were a lot of mistakes on our side but I have to credit Utah.''
There were seven turnovers in the game, including three lost fumbles by BYU.
That both teams finished just three yards apart in total offense (296-293 for Utah) showed how tight this rivalry has been over the years. They had split the previous 10 meetings.
''The last 10-12 years, half of these games have come down to the last play or one critical play at the end to determine the outcome,'' said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who played linebacker at BYU. ''Business as usual in this series.''
It didn't mean that he wasn't nervous as BYU lined up for the last field goal.
''I was just standing on the sidelines rubbing my lucky dimes together,'' Whittingham said. ''But then it was elation and I breathed a sigh of relief.''
BYU had won three of the last four heading into Saturday. But Utah was sending off 18 seniors - the winningest class in school history.
''It's a fitting end to their careers here,'' Whittingham said.