SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah (No. 18 BCS, No. 19 AP) knew what was coming. It was just matter of stopping Air Force's option with the game on the line.
Stevenson Sylvester stuffed Connor Dietz on a fourth-down quarterback keeper to preserve Utah's 23-16 overtime victory over the Falcons on Saturday.
On fourth-and-2 at the 7, Dietz pulled the ball from the fullback and tried the same play that had worked all game long. This time, Sylvester appeared in the running lane and brought Dietz down for no gain.
"There was no trickery or anything. We knew they'd go with the option, it's their bread-and-better. But just toughened up and got the stop," Sylvester said. "We game-planned to try and make Dietz pitch the ball, but he's hard to stop."
Dietz rolled on the ground in misery as the Utah players flooded the field from the sideline to celebrate the Utes' fourth straight win.
"Air Force went to the QB follow game and they'd been getting 3 or 4 yards every time they ran it. But we called a blast which gave the linebackers a running start at the B gap and they knocked the fullback back and gave no place for the QB to run," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
Dietz rushed 28 times for 98 yards, but the Falcons (4-5, 3-3 Mountain West) lost for the sixth time in seven games in the hard-fought series against Utah (7-1, 4-0), with many games coming down to the last play.
"You just have to find a way to dig and come up with a way to win the football game," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. "To be able to come here and get into position to win down the stretch, you have to play some pretty solid football and we did, at least during stretches."
On the first possession of overtime, Eddie Wide, who had 121 yards, scored on a 1-yard plunge that was the eighth play of the 25-yard drive. Joe Phillips' kick made it 23-16.
"That's exactly what we need from Eddie Wide. He's tough enough to come back. A lot of guys would not have come back from that kind of injury," Whittingham said.
The Falcons' methodical drives kept the clock running and wore down the Utes' defense. Air Force had almost double Utah's time of possession and outgained Utah 300-242 yards in regulation. Erik Soderberg kicked a 22-yard field goal at the end of the third quarter and a 48-yard boot with 6:29 remaining to knot the game at 16.
David Reed, who had seven receptions for 149 yards, took a slant pass, broke two tackles and then sprinted 90 yards for a touchdown with 9:39 left in the third quarter. Reed's catch-and-run marked the second-longest pass play in Utah history and gave his team a 13-10 lead.
"We gave up a couple of long plays when we had them backed up. If we keep them pinned down there, we could have a scoring opportunity," Calhoun said.
Boo Anderson's big hit on the ensuing kickoff caused Reggie Rembert to fumble and Elijah Wesson recovered for Utah. Rembert stayed on the ground for five minutes but walked off the field without assistance. The play led to a 31-yard field goal by Phillips for a 16-10 Utah advantage.
The Utes scored on their first possession when Terrance Cain fumbled on a keeper and Wide, who was trailing the play, picked up the ball and ran 44 yards for a touchdown. Phillips pushed the extra point attempt wide right. That was all for the Ute offense in the half as the Falcons held the Utes to just 107 yards of total offense.
Underneath cloudy skies and intermittent rain, Cain was harassed all day by a blitzing Falcon defense and passed for a season-low 167 yards. Utah only managed eight first downs and fumbled five times.
In the first half, Wide was tackled and bent backward while his legs were pinned. He had to be helped to the locker room for X-rays midway through the second quarter. He returned in the second half to notch his fourth 100-yard rushing game since taking over for Matt Asiata, who was lost for the season with a knee injury.
"I had to convince the trainers by sprinting and cutting at halftime. I hate sitting on the sidelines so I really wanted to get out there. This 'W' was awesome," Wide said.
Air Force has lost 13 consecutive games against ranked teams. The Falcons' last top-25 upset was at No. 23 California, 23-21 in 2002.
"We were ready for a dogfight. We expected a tough game and knew we'd have to play to the very end," said Utah defensive end Koa Misi, who had 12 tackles for Utah.