SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah needed only one really good quarter
to avoid losing consecutive games for the first time in three
The Utes allowed Air Force just 42 yards in the third quarter
and withstood a tough fourth quarter, holding off the Falcons 38-35
Utah led by 17, but the Falcons rallied with two late scores to
make it close, a scene similar to last week's overtime loss at TCU
in which the Utes squandered a 10-point lead and had their 18-game
winning streak halted.
"We've got to be able to take a game and put it away when we
have the opportunity. It's the sign of a young defense," Utah
coach Kyle Whittingham said. "By game four now, we should be
starting to grow up a little bit."
Brian Johnson passed for 305 yards and two touchdowns and ran
for three scores the Utes (3-1, 1-1 Mountain West), who scored
twice in seven seconds to break a 14-all tie and led the rest of
Travis LaTendresse caught 10 passes, including a 12-yarder for a
touchdown from Johnson, and finished with 139 yards for Utah after
catching just eight passes in the first three games.
LaTendresse, who received an extra year of eligibility for a
medical hardship, said he was just open more often Thursday.
"We've got some weapons," he said. "It's going to be scary
when we put it all together."
Utah hasn't lost two games in a row since losing six straight in
2002. More importantly to Whittingham, the two-time defending MWC
champions didn't start out 0-2 in the conference.
"That's huge. Now we're in the thick of the race," Johnson
said. "There's so much parity in this conference, it would be hard
for a team to sweep right through it like we did last year."
Johnson was 21-for-29 passing and scored on three 1-yard runs.
He threw one interception, a ball tipped by a Utah player to one of
Ryan Williams ran for two touchdowns for Air Force (2-2, 1-2),
setting one up with a 34-yard sprint up the middle on the opening
drive. Adam Fitch rallied the Falcons in the fourth quarter,
throwing a touchdown pass and running for a score with 1:08
remaining. But Utah recovered an onside kick for the second time in
the quarter and ran out the clock.
"Something just happened in the third quarter. I can't really
tell you what," said Jason Brown, who caught a touchdown pass to
get the Falcons within 10 late in the fourth quarter.
After gaining 242 yards in the first half, Air Force gained just
42 in the third quarter and struggled after Johnson's 60-yard pass
to Brian Hernandez with about 11 minutes left in the third quarter
put Utah up 38-21.
Eric Weddle recovered a fumble at the Air Force 12 to set up a
touchdown and had an interception. Casey Evans also picked off a
pass for the Utes and recovered the final kickoff to seal the
Air Force, which lost 29-28 to Wyoming last weekend after
missing an extra point, got too far behind to complete a comeback.
Kicking troubles and turnovers again slowed the Falcons.
"I don't know what else you would have liked as a football fan,
although I didn't enjoy this game," Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry
The 21 points in the second half were a stark contrast from the
first, when Utah led 31-21 after Dan Beardall's 46-yard field goal
with 3 seconds left.
"It was good to get that win and maybe have some people realize
that we're not done yet," Whittingham said.
Grady Marshall blocked a punt for Utah and the Utes recovered at
the Air Force 33. Quinton Ganther converted on a fourth-and-1 with
a 13-yard run that set up Johnson's third 1-yard scoring run,
putting Utah ahead 21-14 with 5:05 left in the half.
Air Force got the ball back after a touchback, and on first down
Carney made a bad pitch as he was getting hit. Weddle recovered at
the 12. Johnson found LaTendresse in the end zone on first down and
Utah led 28-14.
Carney and the Falcons countered with an 80-yard drive, getting
to 28-21 on a reverse Greg Kirkwood took in 10 yards -- thanks to a
block at the goal line by Carney -- with 1:09 left in the half.