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Utes bounce back to defeat No. 14 Stanford, 40-21

Utah Utes running back Zack Moss (2) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown as Utah and Stanford play a football game in Palo Alto California on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018.
Utah Utes running back Zack Moss (2) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown as Utah and Stanford play a football game in Palo Alto California on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018.
Scott G Winterton

STANFORD, Calif. — Utah snapped its two-game skid in impressive fashion Saturday night against 14th-ranked Stanford. Highlighted by cornerback Jaylon Johnson’s 100-yard interception return for a touchdown, the Utes prevailed 40-21 — earning their first win since Sept. 8.

Utah improved to 3-2 overall and 1-2 in Pac-12 play with the victory. It followed setbacks to Washington (21-7) and Washington State (28-24).

"I'm proud of our guys it's been a tough couple of weeks, two tough losses," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "I'm proud of the way the guys rebounded. A total team effort."

The Utes responded early. They scored the game’s first 21 points en route to improving to 4-0 all-time at Stanford Stadium, ending an 11-game home win streak by the Cardinal in the process.

Utah’s first score came on a 7-yard run by running back Zack Moss late in the first quarter. The touchdown capped a 13-play drive that took 6:28 off the clock.

Johnson’s heroics came less than five minutes later. The speedy sophomore intercepted Stanford quarterback KJ Costello and ran down the right sideline to the goal line with 10:50 left in the half. The 100-yard pick-six was the just the third in team history and the first since Harold Lusk did it against Colorado State in 1994.

Leading 14-0, Utah picked off Costello for the second time with defensive tackle Hauati Pututau getting the takeaway. The offense cashed in nine plays later when Moss scored on a 35-yard run with 2:56 to go in the second quarter to make it 21-0.

It didn’t stay that way for long, though.

Before the half was complete, Stanford cut into the deficit. The Cardinal got on the board with a 2-yard touchdown run by Trevor Speights, who started in place of injured Heisman Trophy candidate Bryce Love.

Although just 24 seconds remained, Utah managed to run three plays before kicker Matt Gay made a 48-yard field goal as time expired.

The senior added a 49-yard kick with 9:40 to go in the third quarter as the Utes extended their advantage to 27-7.

Gay’s contributions proved to be critical. Stanford roared back into contention. The Cardinal scored two touchdowns over the final 5:02 of the third quarter. A 1-yard run by Cameron Scarlett and a 26-yard scoring strike from to Michael Wilson allowed them to pull within 27-21.

After Stanford began the game with two punts and two interceptions, the Cardinal reeled off three consecutive touchdown drives.

Utah regained some breathing room following the third one. A 34-yard field goal by Gay made it a two-score game — at 30-21 — with 12:33 left in the fourth quarter. Stanford’s ensuing possession concluded with a punt after defensive end Maxs Tupai sacked Costello on third down near midfield.

The Utes went on to have third-down success on offense as well. Quarterback Tyler Huntley avoided a takedown and threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to Samson Nacua to ice the outcome with 7:12 remaining. The scoring strike was Utah’s first in more than 16 quarters, dating back to the fourth quarter of the season opener against Weber State.

"Today we kept working and put it all together," Huntley said.

Stanford’s next possession ended with a forced fumble by Utah defensive end Bradlee Anae and a recovery by safety Corrion Ballard, giving the Utes the ball on their own 42-yard line. They chewed up nearly two minutes of the 5:32 left on the clock and added a 37-yard field goal from Gay to end all scoring.

Moss wound up with 160 yards on 20 carries. Huntley completed 17 pf 21 passes for 199 yards. The defense added an exclamation mark with a late forced fumble by Javelin Guidry and a recovery by Nick Heninger.

"It was a good win," Whittingham said. "Now we've got a short turnaround. We'll be happy about this for about 12 hours and we've got to get it out of our system."

The Utes host Arizona (3-3, 2-1) on Friday (8 p.m., ESPN).