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Utes finding swagger: Utah secures fourth straight win

FORT WORTH, Texas — Brian Johnson was one of the last guys to leave the field after Utah's 27-20 win over TCU at Amon G. Carter Stadium. The quarterback, who played his high school football in Texas, said it was awesome to come home and get a victory.

The Utes, who improved to 5-3 overall and 2-2 in Mountain West Conference play, also got another big boost of confidence with their fourth consecutive triumph.

"You can tell guys are starting to play with that swagger that we used to have," Johnson said. "I think the main thing about it is the swagger becomes contagious. Guys start to feel it, and once guys start feeling some of that swagger, play with that energy and play with that emotion, we're a tough team to beat."

Utah certainly was Thursday.

Senior captain Steve Tate, a safety who led the Utes with 12 tackles and had one of the defense's four interceptions, called it a "team effort" with contributions coming from various sources.

"I can't say it's one side or the other," he said. "But I think we're playing as a team."

The TCU game, Tate explained, has been marked on the calendar for some time. Defeating the projected conference champions was a goal.

"We knew it would be a dogfight," Tate said. "We knew it was going to be a battle."

And it was.

The lone points scored in the second half were a pair of 41-yard field goals in the fourth quarter — Louie Sakoda for Utah and Chris Manfredini for TCU.

"It wasn't pretty today on offense. But it was effective, and we got the win," said Johnson, who completed 13-of-20 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown. "That was the biggest thing. We wanted to come out, get the win and keep this thing rolling."

Utah jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.

The Utes opened the game with their longest sustained touchdown drive of the season. They ran 13 plays while taking 6:01 off the clock to take an early lead. A 1-yard run by Darrell Mack, who finished with 100 yards rushing, capped things off. The tailback paced the series by rushing for first downs on three third-and-short situations.

Utah's defense jumped into the mix later in the quarter when free safety R.J. Rice intercepted a pass TCU quarterback Andy Dalton intended for tailback Aaron Brown. Rice's first career pick set up what proved to be the Utes' second scoring drive of the game. A 31- yard field goal by Louie Sakoda increased the lead to double figures with 38 seconds to play in the opening quarter.

"If you turn the ball over as many times as we did you aren't going to beat a junior high team," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "I thought we came out flat. I thought the cheerleaders, band and student section were great. Outside of that, everyone waited around, and all of a sudden we were down 10-0."

A momentum shift followed, however — allowing the Horned Frogs to hop back into the game and eventually take the lead.

"We fought back and did what we needed to do," Patterson said.

"But you are not going to overcome some of the things we did tonight."

TCU's retaliation began with a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown less than one minute into the second quarter. Daryl Washington blocked Sakoda's kick, and the ball sailed straight up in the air. It landed near Sakoda and was scooped up by Stephen Hodge, who returned it 31 yards for a touchdown.

The Horned Frogs reached the end zone again less than four minutes later on a 1-yard touchdown run by Marcus Brock.

Trailing 14-10, Utah responded before the half was complete with scores by both the offense and the defense. A 24-yard touchdown strike from Johnson to Marquis Wilson was followed a couple of minutes later by Martial Burnett's 55-yard interception return for a TD.

The outburst put the Utes back on top 24-14. TCU answered with a 37-yard field goal by Chris Manfredini as time expired to end the half. He missed a 22-yarder early in the third quarter that could have cut into the deficit.


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com