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Seniors step up after challenge; big crowds at U.

Prior to Thursday's 38-35 victory over Air Force, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham made a request.

"I challenged the seniors earlier in the day to step up and lead the team," Whittingham said.

The message got through as several veterans stepped up . . .Wide receiver Travis LaTendresse made a career-high 10 catches for 139 yards and a touchdown.

Running back Quinton Ganther finished with a game-high 78 yards rushing on 20 carries.

John Madsen had two receptions for 28 yards.

Special teams star Grady Marshall blocked a punt for the fourth time in his career. He also made six tackles.

Linebacker Spencer Toone led the Utes with 14 tackles.

All-American candidate Steve Fifita started at defensive end and saw a lot of action at his usual position inside. He was credited with four tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage.

Free safety Tim Harris made two solo stops and defensive end Kite Afeaki assisted on a stop.

Kicker Dan Beardall made a career-best 46-yard field goal. He also connected on five PATs.

The contributions helped the Utes improve to 3-1 overall and 1-1 in Mountain West Conference play. They'll visit North Carolina on Saturday (11:30 a.m., Ch. 14).

FANS IN THE STANDS: Though attendance at Rice-Eccles Stadium has declined each game this season, Utah is still in position for a record-setting year at the turnstiles. Halfway through their six-game home schedule, the Utes are averaging 43,997 — just 115 less than the record campaign of 2004.

After hosting Arizona, Utah State and Air Force, Utah has remaining home dates against San Diego State (Oct. 15), Wyoming (Nov. 5) and New Mexico (Nov. 12).

EXTRA POINTS: Utah has now won 10 straight home games, dating back to a 2003 loss to New Mexico . . . Ameen Shaheen became the first Utah tight end to catch a pass this season when he hauled in a 12-yarder against Air Force . . . The Utes and Falcons have split six all-time meetings in Salt Lake City.