- BYU and Utah played out similar scripts in stadiums 100 miles apart Thursday night in their Southern California bowl appearances. The good news for the Utahns: Paramount will not be turning either into disaster movies. The bad news: Both teams decided to show up well beyond fashionably late.

Ute and Cougar fans can go through the winter with similar bowl memories: Of big ones that got away early, and then nearly returned. If only football games were five quarters. If only you could throw out your first try.There are lots of ways to get on the short end of 28-21 scores. But in these cases, BYU and Utah took the same path. Both entered their games as if they believed what had been said and written - that they were going to get sliced up like so much sushi. Both fell in line by falling behind by big scores very quickly.

Then both decided that, well, as long as they were still playing . . .

BYU fell behind 21-7 to Ohio State after one quarter and five seconds. In the process, they transformed the Buckeyes' All-American running back, Raymont Harris, into the second coming of the L.A. to San Diego Amtrack. Harris had 101 yards after the first 15 minutes. He'd played a great game in one quarter.

As if taking a cue from this kind of frigid start, Utah, kicking off an hour after the BYU-Ohio State Holiday Bowl, quickly granted 28 points to the University of Southern California - while scoring zero points of its own.

The object of the Utes' coronation was USC's All-American wide receiver Johnny Morton. He was the Raymont Harris of Anaheim as he caught seven passes in the first half alone for 121 yards and two touchdowns.

The Utes exited for the locker room down 28-0. They wondered if they could be Morton's agent.

Meanwhile, in San Diego, BYU had decided enough was enough. Tired of being diced and sliced by Harris, the Cougars determined that if they couldn't stop him when he had the ball, they could at least keep him from always getting it. Suddenly, John Walsh and the BYU passing game started to exploit an Ohio State pass defense that was used to seeing the running game set up the pass, not vice versa.

By halftime at Jack Murphy Stadium it was 21-21.

The train wreck had turned back into a football game.

BYU might have climbed all the way back up the mountain if a pair of fourth down-and-crucial situations had been successful. Harris did wind up with a Holiday Bowl record number of carries, and a healthy 235 yards. But when he and his Buckeye teammates walked off the field, they were more relieved than reveling; more grateful than condescending.

They'd liked the first half a lot more than the second.

About the same time BYU was wrapping up its moral victory in San Diego, Utah was going to work on a similar comeback in Anaheim. Ute quarterback Mike McCoy personified the turnaround. He was 10-of-20 with two interceptions, no touchdowns, three sacks and just 81 yards in the opening half. In the second half he would be 13-of-20 for 205 yards and one touchdown. His only interception would come on the last play of the game, when all that stood between the Utes and a total comeback was an answer to a Hail Mary pass.

"You can't spot a team like USC 28 points," said McCoy. "That's just too much. But we got respect in the second half. The first half we didn't get anything."

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As for Morton, his second half was nothing like his first. He caught three passes for just 20 yards and no more touchdowns.

Much like the Cougars as they left the field in San Diego, the Utes left the Anaheim Stadium turf not knowing whether to laugh or to cry. It could have been better . . . but it could have been a lot worse.

Both will go through the offseason wondering why it took them so long to get untracked. Both will wonder if they'd been better off if they hadn't spent a month hearing how badly they would be beaten. Both will wonder what would have happened if they could have had a rematch.

There are better ways to end the season, but there are a lot worse ways too. The Cougars and the Utes may have ended the year with their traditional bowl game losses . . . but only if you get picky and make them count both halves.

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