BYU literally threw away a chance to earn a third consecutive Mountain West Conference championship.

Doomed by a season-high six turnovers — five interceptions and a fumble — the No. 16 Cougars fell 48-24 to No. 8 Utah Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

"We made too many mistakes to win the game. Turnovers were the name of the game," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "That, to me, was the difference. Utah was opportunistic and made the most of those opportunities and we did not. That's about as clear as I can put it.

"Without the turnovers, it's a completely different game," he continued. "But there were the turnovers and you can argue whether they were created or mishaps on our part. In a game like this, when a championship is on the line, you have to play cleaner than we did."

Said wide receiver Austin Collie, who caught 10 passes for 104 yards: "We turned the ball over and it hurt us. Utah brought the intensity and they're a great football team."

For the second time since 2004, the Utes celebrated an outright MWC title and a Bowl Championship berth at BYU's expense.

"It's crushing," said defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen. "Everything was on the line tonight, a conference title, a chance to go to a BCS bowl game. To lose the way we did was crushing."

Now, the Cougars must wait to find out their postseason destination. They could be headed for the Las Vegas Bowl for the fourth straight season.

After posting an 11-2 campaign a year ago, BYU opened the season with high expectations, only to falter twice in conference play.

"Not meeting our goals is a disappointment," Jorgensen said. "Not winning the conference championship and not giving ourselves an opportunity to go to a BCS bowl game is a disappointment. I'm not saying going to the Las Vegas Bowl is a disappointment. But not meeting our goals is a disappointment."

The Cougars outgained the Utes in total offense, 419-415, and rushed for 214 yards, highlighted by Harvey Unga's 15 carries for 116 yards and two touchdowns.

But the turnovers were glaring.

While BYU never led in the game, it rallied from a 17-3 deficit early in the second quarter to tie the score at 17. Trailing 20-17 after a 35-yard field goal by Utah's Louie Sakoda, the Cougars took over on their own 20 and promptly marched into Utah territory on a pair of catches by Collie and another by Michael Reed.

Then, the game changed suddenly as Hall threw the first of his five interceptions on a third-and-3 play. To make matters worse for the Cougars, Hall was flagged for a personal foul penalty, giving Utah the ball at the Cougar 44. Three plays later, Johnson hit David Reed with a 32-yard touchdown strike to stake the Utes to a 27-17 halftime lead.

Down 27-24 in the third quarter, Hall fumbled and the ball was recovered by Utah's Paul Kruger, leading to another Ute touchdown. A Kruger interception on the Cougars' next possession resulted in a 41-24 Utah advantage.

"I thought our intensity into the second half was what it needed to be," Collie said. "We knew we were right back in it, but we couldn't hold on in the end."

BYU players and coaches didn't pin the blame for the loss on Hall, however.

"I don't fault Max because of the leadership he's displayed all year. I think he was just trying to help his team win," Mendenhall said.

"Everyone takes the blame," Jorgensen said. "You can't put it on the offense, you can't put it on the defense, you can't put in on the coaching staff. We all had our faults tonight. It doesn't go on one person. It goes on everybody. Part of being a team is picking up when one side is struggling. The other side has to pick up the slack."

"I take a lot of the responsibility," Hall said. "Man, I think our guys played hard. I played hard. Bottom line, we just made mistakes. I take the bulk of it, but it's a team effort. We just have to regroup."

BYU linebacker David Nixon said not all is lost after Saturday's setback.

"I'm proud of our guys. We fought until the end. We didn't give up. We're sitting 10-2. We're going to go to a bowl game, win that and finish a pretty good season."

Collie, meanwhile, praised the Utes and their performance.

"They were the better team tonight," he said. "I wish them the best of luck in the BCS. They're a great football team."


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com