If losing their season home finale 31-27 to New Mexico wasn't already bad enough, the Utah football team lost two of its top three offensive playmakers to serious injury Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

John Madsen, Utah's leading receiver, left early in the game after suffering a broken left ankle.

Then, with just 90 seconds remaining in the game, quarterback Brian Johnson went down with a serious left knee injury. He, like Madsen, left the field at game's end on crutches.

"Those are huge losses for us," understated Ute defensive back Eric Weddle.

Johnson was attempting to scramble for a do-or-die first down on 4th-and-15 when he was hit by Gabriel Fulbright near the Lobo sideline after a gain of 12 yards. Johnson stayed down for a couple of minutes as medical personnel attended to him.

New Mexico would have taken over the ball on downs as Johnson came three yards short of the first down, but Fulbright was flagged for a personal foul for a hit on a wide receiver during the play and the drive stayed alive.

Johnson's seldom-used backup, Brett Ratliff, was able to move the Utes to the Lobo 14. But he then threw an interception with 1:10 remaining to seal Utah's fate.

"It looks like an ACL," said Ute coach Kyle Whittingham of Johnson's injury. Medical tests will help determine the course of action and the length of Johnson's rehabilitation, but Whittingham did say, however, that it looks like an injury that will require surgery.

Johnson has passed for 200-plus yards 10 times this season. He had 264 yards passing and four touchdowns in the first half alone of Saturday night's game.

"Brian has done great this entire year for us," said Utah defensive back Eric Weddle. "He's grown a lot and made plays, but now it's time for other guys to step up for us."

Johnson, an 18-year-old sophomore, moved into No. 7 on the single-season passing yardage list at the U. prior to his injury, passing Larry Egger.

Since his injury is season-ending, he'll finish the year with 2,892 yards passing and 3,370 yards of total offense, ranking him No. 4 all-time.

Johnson had an outstanding first half, with the exception of an interception that was returned 31 yards for a touchdown by New Mexico's Quincy Black. The second half was a struggle, however. New Mexico's blitzes kept him off balance, as the Utes failed to score after the break. He ended up being sacked a New Mexico team-record nine times. His fumble with 7:07 remaining was returned by New Mexico's Cody Kase for the game-winning score.

Madsen, a senior from West Valley City, had been coming on of late. He had back-to-back 100-yard games against UNLV and Wyoming. He entered Saturday night's game with a team-best 55 catches for 672 yards and six touchdowns.

After he went down with the broken left ankle, several teammates wrote his number — 23 — on their arms.

"We were playing for Madsen and all these seniors," said Derrick Richards, who hauled in two first-half touchdown passes. "We wanted to send them out with a win."

That didn't happen however.

Still, the Utes aren't conceding a loss to BYU in next week's rivalry game in Provo.

"We're going to have some guys step up," said Weddle. "You have to pick up the riffle and go on with it."


E-mail: lojo@desnews.com