TUCSON, Ariz. — Utah quarterback Troy Williams replaced the injured Tyler Huntley in the second quarter and helped lead the 21st-ranked Utah Utes to a wild 30-24 victory over Arizona Friday in the Pac-12 opener for both teams.
"It's great to come down and get a win here any way you can get it," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "It's a tough place to play."
Whittingham added that Arizona is a well-coached football teams that plays hard.
And down to the final seconds as it turned out.
Trailing 30-17, the Wildcats made things interesting down the stretch. Their comeback bid picked up steam when quarterback Brandon Dawkins teamed with Tony Ellison on a 30-yard touchdown pass with 2:44 remaining. Arizona then recovered an onside kick and the drama ensued.
On the next play, Utah cornerback Casey Hughes forced Dawkins to fumble at the end of a 15-yard run and defensive lineman Chris Hart recovered it for the Utes.
The game, though, was far from finished. Utah punted the ball back to Arizona just 26 seconds later.
The Wildcats completed two passes before safety Corrion Ballard picked off Dawkins near midfield to preserve the win. It was Utah's fifth takeaway of the night.
"That was a huge factor in the game," Whittingham said. "The hugest factor in the game."
The three interceptions and two fumble recoveries offset an otherwise challenging game for the Utes (4-0, 1-0). They lost Huntley, who has started all four games this season, to an apparent shoulder injury after he was sacked with 8:45 remaining in the opening half.
Whittingham said they'll find out more on the extent of Huntley's injury in the next few days. The Utes are off until their homecoming game Oct. 7 against Stanford.
"The bye comes at a good time potentially, depending on what it is," said Whittingham, who noted that a couple of other guys are also banged up.
None of the injuries, he later added, are deemed to be season-ending ones at this point.
"I hope not. I would think not," Whittingham said. "Season ending? I would think not and so like I said we'll find out a lot more in the next few days. But I would highly doubt that any one is in that category."
Williams guided the Utes to three scoring drives, including a lengthy possession to open the third quarter. His 1-yard touchdown run and the accompanying extra-point kick from Matt Gay increased Utah’s lead to 20-10 — providing some much-needed breathing room.
Arizona later answered with a 7-yard TD run by J.J. Taylor, however, to cut the margin back to three points.
Enter the defense. Cornerback Javelin Guidry returned an interception 14 yards for a touchdown as the Utes extended their lead to 27-17 following another PAT from Gay.
Utah thwarted the start of an earlier comeback bid by Arizona when Lowell Louteleli blocked a 47-yard field goal attempt by Josh Pollackin in the fourth quarter. The offense later added a 37-yard kick by Gay to close out the Utes' scoring.
The Utes have now won three straight Pac-12 openers after losing their first four since becoming members of the conference in 2011.
Utah led 10-3 at the end of the first quarter. The Utes scored on their opening drive when Huntley and Samson Nacua connected on an 8-yard touchdown throw. Gay added the PAT to make it 7-0 with 10:35 left in the quarter.
Less than four minutes later, Arizona countered with a 32-yard goal from Pollack. Trailing 7-3, the Wildcats garnered even more momentum when linebacker Kylon Wilbur forced Moss to fumble and recovered the ball on his team’s 34-yard line.
Arizona was forced to punt after three plays, however, and the tide turned. Boobie Hobbs returned the kick 48 yards, taking it back to the Arizona 28. The Utes wound up adding a 41-yard field goal from Gay to regain a seven-point advantage before the quarter was complete.
Early in the second, Hobbs came up big again. The nickel back recovered a fumble forced by Casey Hughes deep in Utah territory. The Utes took possession on the 1-yard line. Hughes caused the action by jarring the ball away from Taylor.
The Utes then marched 91 yards on 14 plays, taking 6:20 off the clock, to extend their lead with a 26-yard field goal from Gay. In the midst of the drive, Huntley was injured on a sack by Tony Fields II and left the game.
Williams took over at quarterback and promptly connected on a 40-yard pass to Darren Carrington II on third-and-9. That play and a 15-yard penalty on Arizona on the snap that followed moved Utah into the red zone.
Things went Arizona’s way — mostly so, anyhow — over the balance of the half. A 1-yard touchdown run by Dawkins concluded an 11-play, 75-yard drive. The PAT from Pollack cut the deficit to 13-10 with 1:39 to in the half.
In the closing seconds, defensive end Justin Belknap recovered a bad Utah snap on a punt attempt and gave the Wildcats possession on the 26-yard line with 11 seconds remaining. However, an incomplete pass was followed by a missed field goal from Pollack as time expired — keeping the Utes ahead.
The teams nearly played to a statistical draw over the first two quarters. Utah had 205 yards and 12 first downs in the opening half. Arizona finished with 202 and 11.
By game's end, the Wildcats held advantages in both total offense (448-341) and first downs (24-21).
"Pretty frustrating in a lot of areas and ways," said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez.