August 5, 2007

September 28, 1996 - Utah vs. Kansas

HOW IS IT GREAT? Yesterday's featured game (Oregon, '94) was one in which the greatness wasn't apparent until later in the season. Today's selection is the opposite: it was a great game at the time it was played, but didn't look so impressive by the time the season was over. Nevertheless, on the day it was played, this game was huge.

Utah's Athletic Department speculated that this was the first time that Utah had sold out a home game (besides games against BYU) before the day of the game. Additionally, ESPN2 was on hand to broadcast the game to the rest of the nation. Kansas (2-0) was ranked #20 in both polls, and featured the second-leading rusher in the nation: June Henley (194 yards/game average, 7 TDs in 2 games).

Then, on top of all the hype, this match actually turned out to be one of the closest, most exciting games of the 1996 college football season. The second-half saw four lead changes, the final change coming when Rocky Henry caught his fourth TD of the night with 1:39 left. The following Monday, Utah was ranked #24 in both polls.

2007 RANKING: #25. Two very bad losses kept 1996 from being a real special season. The first was a puzzling loss to Utah State in the opener; the second was the worst Utah loss since forever: a 51-10 beating by Rice of all teams. But in between these losses, the Utes managed to win 7 games in-a-row, the most impressive being this upset over #20 Kansas.

The Jayhawks didn't recover from their loss to Utah, and wound up losing six of their next eight games. They finished the season with a disappointing 4-7 record (but their coach, Glen Mason, somehow managed to parlay that record into a job at Minnesota the following season).

WHAT THE PRESS HAD TO SAY:

UNBELIEVABLE! U. NIPS KANSAS
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By Mike Sorensen
Deseret News
September 29, 1996

There may not be a better game in college football this year than the one 32,519 fans witnessed Saturday night at Rice Stadium.

It was a game for the ages, one that will likely go down as one of the greatest the state has ever seen as Utah came back, not once, not twice, but three times before finally defeating 20th-ranked Kansas 45-42.The impressive performance, seen live on ESPN2, could land the Utes in the top 25 come Monday morning.

The terrific game featured five lead changes, a 476-yard passing performance by Ute quarterback Mike Fouts, a 220-yard performance by Heisman Trophy candidate June Henley of Kansas, more than 1,000 yards of total offense, trick plays, blocked kicks, big defensive stops - everything you could ask for in a football game.

It even had a happy ending for the home fans who sat for nearly four hours watching the exciting contest on a perfect night under a nearly-full moon.

The Utes marched 82 yards for the winning score after getting the ball with 2:37 left in the game at their own 18 with Fouts completing four of six passes. The winning touchdown came on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Fouts to Rocky Henry with 1:39 left and was set up by a pair of passes to Kevin Dyson covering 41 yards and 14 yards.

Kansas got the ball back one last time, but all four of Matt Johner's passes were incomplete, the last one knocked down by Utah linebacker Armand Boglin.

"I can't believe it,'' said Ute coach Ron McBride. "I'll tell you what, this team has a lot of courage. They have no quit in them.''

"I guess from a spectator standpoint, it was a heck of a game, especially if you are a Utah fan,'' said Kansas coach Glen Mason. The Utes had come back from a 28-21 deficit midway through the third quarter, scoring a pair of touchdowns and a field goal to go up 38-28. But the Jayhawks fought back to take the lead at 42-38, scoring on an innovative fake field goal play.

Besides Fouts' big night in which he completed 21 of 35 for 476 yards and four touchdowns, Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala ran for 103 yards and two touchdowns, Dyson caught seven passes for 172 yards and Henry had five catches for 129 yards.

The Utes capped an 80-yard drive with a 32-yard pass from Fouts to Henry, who leaped over Jamie Harris, who had fallen down and sprinted for the end zone, tying the score at 28-all.

The Utes dug themselves out a big hole on their next series, starting from their own 10-yard line and moving the length of the field to take the lead on a 37-yard pass from Fouts to Henry. On the TD play, Henry took the inside screen pass and weaved his way past several defenders for the score.

The Utes went up 38-28 early in the fourth quarter on a 39-yard field goal by Dan Pulsipher. Kansas wouldn't quit and came back with a methodical drive that ended with a 7-yard run by Henley cutting the lead to 38-35.

On Utah's next offensive play, Fouts threw his first interception of the year - his first in 190 attempts - as Jamie Harris made a diving catch at the sideline. The Jayhawks were apparently stopped at the Ute 20, but came up with a beauty of a trick play as Henley acted like he was running off the field and then turned upfield at the snap. The holder, Johner, stood up and hit a wide-open Henley for the touchdown.

The Utes then seemed to panic, throwing a long pass that was picked off by Tony Blevins, on their next play. With only 3:58 left, the Utes looked dead. However the Ute defense held, giving the Ute offense one more chance.

Kansas had come out strong in the third quarter, stunning the Utes with a pair of long pass plays to erase a 21-14 lead. The Jayhawks took the second-half kickoff and moved to the Ute 35, where they faced 4th and 2. With the Utes looking for another Henley run, the Jayhawks executed a beautiful play with Johner faking up the middle, then rolling left and hitting a wide-open Hosea Friday for the touchdown.

The Jayhawks went up 28-21 on what looked like a simple sideline pass to running back Eric Vann. But the Utes missed a couple of tackles and Vann raced up the sidelines for a 65-yard touchdown play.

The stats didn't tell the story of the first half, which ended with Utah leading 21-14.

Kansas ran 17 more plays and held the ball for 20 of the 30 minutes, but it was the Utes who capitalized with several big plays on three scoring drives. Fouts completed 6 of 10 passes for 189 yards with three passes going for 65, 52 and 42 yards.

After the Utes went nowhere on their first series, Kansas marched right down the field, going 80 yards in 12 plays with Henley going the final four yards for the touchdown. Henley ran the ball on seven of those plays as the Jayhawk line overpowered the Utes.

Then the Ute offensive fireworks began.

The Utes took only four plays to score as Fuamatu-Ma'afala rambled untouched the final 15 yards for the touchdown. The TD was set up by a 52-yard pass from Fouts to Johnson. Fouts faked a handoff to Johnson, rolled right, turned and fired a pass to a wide-open Johnson down the left sideline.

Clarence Lawson came up with a big play to halt Kansas' next drive, sacking quarterback Johner on a cornerback blitz on third down.

Utah's next touchdown was set up by a 42-yard pass to Henry that came off a fake double reverse. Fuamatu-Ma'afala scored his second touchdown by diving in from a yard out on third down to put the Utes ahead 14-7.

The Ute defense came up with another big play, stopping Henley for no gain on 3rd and 1. Three plays later, the Utes were in the end zone again, as Fouts found a streaking Kevin Dyson for a 65-yard touchdown play. Dyson ran a simple post pattern and Fouts hit him at the 20 and Dyson pranced in.

The Kansas defense came alive on Utah's next series, sacking Fouts twice and giving the Jayhawks good field position at the Utah 47. It took 12 plays and more than five minutes, but Kansas pushed in a score in the final seconds of the half as Johner hit Issac Byrd with a 6-yard touchdown pass.

GAME NOTES: The Utes head to El Paso next week to play UTEP Saturday night . . . Two banks of portable lights were brought in to help light the field since it was being televised on ESPN2 . . . Utah Jazz center Greg Ostertag, a Kansas alum, was in the Ute pressbox . . . Several Utes went to the sidelines with injuries. Lawson left the game with a concussion after a big collision with Henley. Chad Kauhaahaa and Ryan Akina went out with sprained knees and Juan Johnson left with a hip pointer . . . Utah had three different defensive starters - Richard Seals at defensive line in place of Jeff Kaufusi, who injures his knee in practice this week, Taulia Lave at linebacker in place of Jason Hooks and Calbert Beck at cornerback in place of Dave Richards. Also Keith Harrison came in on the first defensive series for Brandon Dart, who left with a hip pointer, but later returned . . . The Utes wore their lucky red pants for the fourth straight game, after abandoning their white ones after the Utah State loss.

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