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Seniors honored before final game at Rice-Eccles Stadium (+video)

SALT LAKE CITY — One by one, Utah’s seniors stepped onto the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium, surrounded by family members, for the last time in their collegiate careers Saturday night to cheers from a grateful crowd.

They shook hands and embraced head coach Kyle Whittingham as they walked through the tunnel and onto the field as their names were read.

After greeting Whittingham, they were congratulated by offensive lineman Lo Falemaka, who wasn’t honored even though he’s a senior because he’s applying for a medical redshirt so he can play one more season for the Utes. Several players were emotional when greeted by Falemaka, a graduate of Cottonwood High.

This year’s seniors class has won more than 30 games and all three bowl games. Among those honored was Whittingham’s son, Alex, a specialist and the team’s captains.

The captains were honored last, starting with Christian Drews, special teams, who has been injured most of the season, defensive tackle Filipo Mokofisi, defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei, offensive lineman Leka Uhatafe and quarterback Troy Williams, who ended up starting for the Utes in place of sophomore Tyler Huntley.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SPECIAL HELMETS: The Utes sported special gear for their home finale. They wore specialty helmets that were hand-painted and individually numbered. On the back of the helmets was a depiction of two hands “flashing the U. sign,” sporting gloves worn by the football team.

GOING WITH THEM: Utah coach Kyle Whittingham will join national finalists Matt Gay (Lou Groza Award) and Mitch Wishnowsky (Ray Guy Award) at the Home Depot College Football Awards Show in Atlanta on Dec. 7 (5 p.m., ESPN). The trio will attend a reception the night before the winers are announced. Gay is also slated to attend a banquet for the Lou Groza finalists in Palm Beach, Florida.

BOWL-A-RAMA: As was the case at Friday night’s California-UCLA games, a representative from the Independence Bowl was on hand to meet folks and hand out literature on the Dec. 27 game in Shreveport, Louisiana.

“The whole bowl season is just so up in the air right now,” said Eric Barkley of the Independence Bowl selection committee.

The bowl has primary agreements with the ACC and SEC, as well as backup deals with the AAC and Conference-USA. However, circumstances could lead to inviting a Pac-12 team to fill the void, and Barkley noted that Colorado or Utah would certainly meet the criteria.

“Literally we don’t know who is going to come right now,” Barkley said.

Utah athletics director Chris Hill acknowledged that the Utes would go bowling somewhere with a 6-6 record. He confirmed that the Pac-12 has backup agreements with the Heart of Dallas and Armed Forces bowl games in Texas, if slots open there.

“It’s always better to go to a bowl than not. That’s what every coach will tell you,” said Hill, who noted that it’s good for the seniors and beneficial in terms of extra practice for the others.


Twitter: @DirkFacer, @adonsports