August 3, 2007

November 1, 2003 - Utah at Air Force

HOW IS IT GREAT? The Utes were 6-1 and riding a 5-game winning streak. Fans were raising their expectations and had an OCC in their sights. Then came the unmentionable New Mexico game. . .

It suddenly seemed that Utah was headed for a late-season meltdown. Two losses in a row would have been devastating, and would have caused fan expectations to come to an abrupt crash. Unfortunately, the Utes would have to rebound in Colorado Springs against AFA, who always gives Utah fits. This was a must-win, as all the progress Utah had made so far that season was suddenly put on the line.

Under these circumstances, Utah pulled out one of the biggest, if not the most exciting, wins of the year. There are two things you should take away from this game: 1) It went into triple overtime; and 2) Ben Moa is a freakin' stud.

2007 RANKING: #27. Air Force had a pretty good team in 2003. In fact, they were tied with the Utes for first place in the MWC (6-2, 3-1) before the game was played. For this reason, coupled with the epic finish, I have to place it a spot ahead of CSU '03 in the countdown. It could have placed higher, but Air Force ended the season with a string of losses to finish 7-5 and missed out on a bowl invite.

Personal note: I was truly frightened about this game during the previous week. I even considered staying home to study instead of watching the game at a sports bar. Alas, I couldn't hold out. I ended up at a sports bar in northern Kentucky where all the customers were already glued to the intense Utah game. I was proudly decked out in my Utah red. Needless to say, after the Utes won, all the other watchers were very congratulatory to me, and I had never felt prouder to be a Ute.



No Denying Senior As Utah Outlasts Falcons in 3 OT
By Dirk Facer
Deseret Morning News
November 2, 2003

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Ben Moa made a tough decision easy.

With Saturday's game at Air Force, as well as his team's Mountain West Conference championship hopes on the line, Utah coach Urban Meyer sought the senior's input. Facing a fourth-and-goal situation from the 1, should the Utes throw the ball over the top? Moa's response was decisive.

"I said, 'Just give it to me. I promise you on my life I'll get in the end zone,'" Moa told Meyer. "I'm just glad I got it."

So, too, are the Utes. Moa's touchdown in triple overtime, coupled with a pass to Matt Hansen for an ensuing game-winning two-point conversion, lifted Utah to a 45-43 victory at Falcon Stadium — a bright finish to a game that began under a layer of freezing fog.

"It was one of the more gutsy efforts I've ever seen by a football player. (Moa) just would not be denied," defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham said. "He told me at halftime, 'Coach, we're not going to lose this game.'"

Moa made sure of it. Not only did the tight end rush for three touchdowns, he also teamed with Hansen on the decisive scoring strike — executing a play originally designed for injured tailback Brandon Warfield. After taking a direct snap, the runner lowers his head and shoulders to fake a run. He then stands tall and lofts the ball in the direction of Hansen, a big, 6-foot-5 athlete with basketball credentials.

"We've had that play in for several weeks now. We've just been waiting for the right situation to run it," Hansen said. "There wasn't any doubt (I'd catch it). It all happened so fast, I just went up and got it."

As soon as he did, the Utes had broken from their first-place tie with the Falcons. At 7-2 overall and 4-1 in conference play, they're all alone on top. Victories over Wyoming (Nov. 15) and Brigham Young (Nov. 22) would give them the MWC championship. Utah has a bye next week.

"I've been lucky to be part of some big wins. This is either 1 or 1A," Meyer said. "Especially, with the tough week we had."

The unexpected death of Fred Whittingham, Kyle's father and a former Utah assistant, to surgical complications Monday left many in the program grieving. Other issues facing the Utes involved replacing Warfield, who is the MWC's top rusher, and bouncing back from last week's 47-35 loss at home to New Mexico.

"You have to give Utah a lot of credit," Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry said. "They made plays when they had to."

Plenty were needed as the Utes snapped a three-game losing streak in their series with the Falcons. The past three meetings have been decided by a combined seven points.

Like the others, this one could have gone either way.

The Utes prevailed, however, by following Moa's lead and doing "whatever it takes to win." With 14 seconds remaining in regulation, Spencer Toone blocked a potential game-winning 50-yard field goal by Air Force kicker Joey Ashcroft. It stopped a momentum shift that saw a 23-7 Utah lead evaporate in the fourth quarter.

The Falcons pulled even on short touchdown runs by Chance Harridge and Darnell Stephens, as well as a 45-yard kick by Ashcroft. The late comeback was somewhat surprising considering the Utes had outscored their opponents 92-32 in the fourth quarter over eight previous outings.

It wasn't unexpected, however.

"They're a heckuva team and we knew that they weren't ever going to give up," said Utah safety Dave Revill, who finished with a game-high 15 tackles. "If it was 40-7 they'd come back."

The Utes were shut out until overtime after adding a 10-yard touchdown run by Mike Liti to a 10-point halftime lead in the third quarter.

In the first extra session, Air Force scored on a 1-yard TD run by Harridge before Utah countered with a similar run by Moa. In the second OT, Alex Smith teamed with Paris Warren for an 18-yard scoring strike, but the Falcons followed with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Harridge to Alec Messerall.

The separation came in the MWC's first-ever third overtime, when teams are forced to go for two-point conversions instead of kicking. Air Force scored on a 4-yard run by Anthony Butler on its possession, but Harridge slipped at the 4-yard line on the conversion attempt.

Utah then turned to Moa, and he delivered — scoring a touchdown to tie the score and then hooking up with Hansen for the decisive two-point finale.

"I thought we had a good chance to win the game in regulation," DeBerry said. "We just didn't make enough plays. They simply made more plays than we did."

Smith paced the Utes by rushing for a team-high 89 yards on 18 carries. He was 22-of-32 for 297 yards and a score. Even so, for the fifth time in six games Utah failed to score a touchdown in the first quarter. A promising opening drive, featuring three first downs and 35 rushing yards by Smith, stalled inside the 10 and led to a 24-yard field goal by Bryan Borreson.

Air Force had an opportunity to even the score after an exchange of punts, but Ashcroft's 43-yard field-goal attempt was wide left. Leading 3-0, the Utes remained in front throughout the balance of the quarter despite a punt and Smith's first interception in 181 pass attempts.

Utah's defense also netted a turnover. Arnold Parker forced a fumble that was recovered by Lewis Powell near midfield. The Utes, however, failed to capitalize. Three plays later, Air Force cornerback Jeff Overstreet picked off Smith and returned the ball 35 yards to the Utah 30. It set up Air Force's first and only lead in the game.

A 15-yard touchdown run by Harridge put the Falcons on top 7-3 less than a minute into the second quarter.

In response, Utah embarked upon the first of two lengthy scoring drives before the half was complete. A 4-yard touchdown run by Moa capped an eight-play series and gave the Utes a 10-7 advantage. It swelled to 17-7 in the closing minute when Liti scored on a 1-yard run. It brought a successful end to a 14-play, 93-yard sequence that took 7:20 off the clock.

The latter helped Utah secure a 12:56 advantage in time of possession over the first two quarters. The Utes ran 20 more offensive plays than the Falcons did while building a 265-118 edge in yardage.

"If you're going to beat these guys, you've got to beat them for four quarters," Whittingham said. "They'll never lay down and quit."


j said...

Man what a game! We were on the edge of our seats, and then just standing and/or kneeling next to the TV for all of overtime. This was another of those wins where Urban proved he could win the close ones that in the past we'd blown.

Layla said...

Good post.