August 12, 2007

October 21, 1995 - Utah vs. Air Force

HOW IS IT GREAT? Utah was down 21-7 with a little over a minute left, and the ball on their own 36. Somehow they pulled it off.

What makes this comeback all the more amazing is the fact  the Utes did the same thing four weeks earlier against Fresno State. In that game, Utah managed to score two touchdowns in the final three minutes, including the winning pass from Mike Fouts to Rocky Henry with 47 seconds left.

So it's no surprise fans decided the chances for another miracle comeback were too slim to stick around to see the end of this game. Those who stayed in the stadium--or stayed tuned to their TVs--saw the most amazing Utah comeback in 23 years. Everyone else had to settle for newspaper write-ups or TV highlights, which cannot do justice to this feat.

2007 RANKING: #18. This portion of the countdown consists of a lot of games with amazing endings. Victories such as these typically don't have the long-term impact on a program as some of the upsets and milestones that appear in the Top-15. Still, a win like this can turn a season around.

This was a quality win, amazing comeback or not. Air Force was 5-2 before the game, finished the season at 8-5 (with a CIC trophy), and was one of four teams--along with the Utes--to share the WAC championship that year. So to win such an important game against a tough opponent makes this game the biggest of the 1995 season.

I place this game a little higher than Minnesota '90 on the countdown because the ending was a little more spectacular, and the quality of competition was better. This game could have ranked even higher if the Utes had won either of their previous two games and were playing for an outright conference title. Instead they had to win this one, then win out, just for a share of the WAC title.

• From the Box Score:

Article about the game from Sports Illustrated, available on AncientUte's great website.


Down 21-7 Late In The 4th, Utes Stage Miracle Rally
By Mike Sorensen
Deseret News
October 22, 1995

You couldn't really blame all those Utah football fans who streamed out of the exits during the waning minutes of Saturday's game with Air Force. After all, Ute fans had sat through too many heartbreaking losses already this year - four to be exact - and there was no way the Utes could pull off a miracle win like they did against Fresno State. Or could they?

All the Utes needed were a couple of 50-yard passes, a perfect onsides kick, a two-point conversion - all in less than a minute - and the victory would be theirs. And believe it or not, the unbelievable Utes did it.

Down 14 points, they scored two touchdowns in a 10-second span in the final minute to stun the Falcons 22-21 and seriously hurt the Falcons' Western Athletic Conference title hopes.

"That's incredible,'' said Ute coach Ron McBride. "We've won two like that this year and you might not win two of those in a lifetime. It goes to show when there's life and there's breath, you've got a chance.''

Mike Fouts, who had struggled much of the day, threw two touchdown passes, a 17-yarder to Rocky Henry with 41 seconds left and a 50-yarder to Kevin Dyson with 31 seconds left to lift the Utes to the most unlikely victory. Of course, Utah needed the all-important extra points - a two-point run by Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala and the winning kick by Daniel Pulsipher.

Pulsipher ended up a hero with his extra point boot and an onsides kick that was botched but turned out perfect, after he was about wear goat horns for a pair of key penalties that led to a Falcons' touchdown (more on that later).

Overshadowed in all the last-minute heroics was the play of the Ute defense, which defended the Falcon option as well as possible. The defense, led by Chad Kauhaahaa and Kautai Olevao, gave up just 339 yards total and held the Falcons below their second-in-the-nation rushing average with 285 yards.

"Our defense played incredible and was awesome against the option,'' said McBride. "They just refused to give in.''

After Air Force scored with 13:28 left in the third quarter to make it 21-7, the Ute defense kept the Falcons out of the end zone the rest of the day.

But the Ute offense sputtered and things looked bleak when Fouts fumbled after a blindside sack with 6:11 left, deep in Air Force territory.

Air Force marched up to the Utah 30, but three plays went for zero, minus 1 and minus 6 yards. After a punt, the Utes took over on their own 20 with little hope and little time.

With just over a minute left and the ball on the Utah 36, Fouts threw it high and long down the right side. Terrance Keehan had to turn around to catch it over the wrong shoulder for a 54-yard gain to the AFA 17. After two incompletions, Fouts found Henry between two defenders at the goal line.

Then the Utes lined up in their "Duck'' formation and Fouts pitched to Fuamatu-Ma'afala, who bulled his way around the left side to make it 21-15.

Everybody in the stadium knew what was coming next - an onsides kick to the left side of the Air Force receiving team.

Pulsipher meant to bounce it, but caught it high and instead sent a line drive right at Nakia Addison on the second row. The ball ricocheted off his chest, bounced around and was finally recovered by Utah's Artis Jackson.

Utah had 38 seconds to score, but didn't waste any time. The Utes sent five receivers out, but prior to the play, Fouts told Dyson, "to get on your horse, because I'm going to let it loose.''

Dyson flew down the left sideline right past Kelvin King, who had had an outstanding game up to that point, and caught the ball in stride at the 5-yard line and pranced into the end zone.

"It was a really nice ball and I just ran underneath it,'' said Dyson. "He told me to get on my horse and I just ran as hard as I could.''

"I'd already made my mind up that I was going to let it fly,'' said Fouts. "I gave (Dyson) a chance to make a play, because he's the kind of player that can turn a game around.''

According to AFA coach Fisher DeBerry, "Utah didn't surprise us, we just didn't execute and they did.''

The Utes still needed the extra point kick and Pulsipher split the uprights ("You never think about it,'' said Pulsipher, who claimed he wasn't nervous over the game-winner).

In the final half minute, the Falcons tried to pass themselves into field goal territory, but to no avail. The game ended with Calbert Beck intercepting a Hail Mary pass and running 85 yards for an apparent touchdown that was nullified by offsetting penalties.

The Utes had struck first with a 24-yard Fouts-to-Henry pass on the first play of the second quarter. The Falcons came back with a pair of touchdown passes of their own - a 35-yarder from Beau Morgan to Craig Hancock and a 4-yarder from Morgan to Tobin Ruff. The latter was set up by a fumble by Henry Lusk on a punt return.

At the end of the first half, Pulsipher missed a 37-yard field goal as time ran out. He thought it was good and told an official, who flagged him for unsportsmanlike conduct.

That meant Utah had to kick off from the 20-yard line to start the second half. Then Pulsipher compounded his first-half error by tackling the returner out of bounds, for another 15-yard penalty. That put Air Force on the Utah 41. Three plays later they were in the end zone on a 32-yard run by Jake Campbell to make it 21-7.

"I really screwed up big time,'' said Pulsipher. "That's 30 yards just on me. I almost cost the team the game.''

DeBerry was blaming himself for some conservative play near the end of the game the Falcons should never have lost.

"We ran out of gas. We didn't make the plays when we had the opportunity. We lost as a team not individuals. I give Utah lots of credit - I salute them,'' he said.

The win kept the Utes' slim WAC title hopes alive at 4-2. Not only did Air Force receive its second loss, but so did Colorado State and Wyoming, leaving just San Diego State and BYU with one WAC loss.

The Utes play in-state rival Utah State next week at home, before concluding the season with road games at Wyoming and BYU.

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