This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The Utes knew it would be tight, but the race for the Pac-12 South Division had a thinner margin than anyone could've imagined: the inch of turf between Darren Carrington's right foot and the sideline in Utah's south end zone.
In a game defined by painstakingly reviewed calls, the final one hurt the most: Officials overturned an out-of-bounds call and gave Oregon a 17-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Justin Herbert to Carrington with two seconds left in a crushing 30-28 home loss for the No. 12 Utes (8-3, 5-3) that took the route to the school's first-ever division title out of their own hands.
After exiting the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium for the final time this season, only a narrow hope for the Utes existed pending the day's results. But it was soon stomped out, when Colorado decisively knocked off Washington State, 38-24, in Boulder hours after the Utes had lost guaranteeing either the Buffs or USC will win the South.
"Not what we wanted," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "Very disappointed. We had our eyes set on the South Division and making it to the championship game. Bottom line: We didn't get it done."
Utah's defense allowed 575 yards from the 4-7 Ducks, allowing them to score 27 points in the second half with four straight touchdown drives to end the game. And Utah's passing offense generated only 77 yards in the second half on Senior Day.
Still, the Utes seemed primed to escape with a win: A 30-yard touchdown from quarterback Troy Williams to tight end Evan Moeai gave Utah a 28-24 lead with 2:18 remaining in the game.
In most games, that would be enough for a feared Utes "D." But the Ducks marched 75 yards in 10 plays, paying little heed to Utah's pass rush or its turnover-forcing defense which forced no turnovers on Saturday. Utah forced two incompletions from Oregon from the Utes' 17, but the last of Herbert's 30 completions and the last chunk of his 324 yards found Carrington with almost no space to spare in the back of the end zone with senior corner Brian Allen in tight coverage.
On the subsequent kickoff, Utah tried a series of laterals, but the play ended with a flag for an illegal forward pass.
While Whittingham said he hadn't sensed a lack of urgency from his team in the week of preparation leading up to the game against the Ducks, who had fallen from their typical top place in the Pac-12. But when the game was on the line, he said, the Utes couldn't seal a win despite being double-digit favorites.
"When plays had to be made, we weren't able to make those plays," Whittingham said. "We couldn't get a stop on defense when we needed to. Couldn't put a dagger in their heart when we could've on offense. ... We all shared in it."
The implications of Utah's defeat could be sweeping across the league: Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, who was in the hot seat, may have earned a stay of execution. USC's opportunity to win its second straight South Division title saw its slim chances increase, while Colorado's got closer to cornering first place in the division.
Utah's seniors, 24 in total, and 17 who started on Saturday, appeared shaken by Utah's second Senior Day loss in three years and another November stumble with the South Division on the line.
Running back Joe Williams, who had become only the 13th Utah back to surpass 1,000 yards in a season with a 149-yard performance, had only the same response to each question after the game: "[Expletive] happens, but we're on to Colorado."
Oregon gained momentum starting in the third quarter with a 43-yard punt return from Mitchell. On the next play, a reverse flea-flicker gave Herbert an open throw to Jalen Brown for a 29-yard touchdown. On the next drive, the Ducks drove 96 yards, and Herbert completed a 1-yard touchdown pass to Freeman for a 17-14 edge early in the fourth quarter Oregon's first lead of the game.
Utah took a lead in the fourth quarter on a strange special teams play: Oregon returner Dillon Mitchell brushed a Mitch Wishnowsky punt with his hand, and Chase Hansen recovered the ball in the end zone. After a lengthy review, officials determined it was a Utah touchdown, giving the Utes a 21-17 edge.
The Ducks took it right back: Herbert led the offense down the field, thanks in part to big runs by running back Royce Freeman (129 yards), and scored himself from a yard out with 6:41 remaining and giving Oregon a 24-21 lead.
What was expected to be a shootout started out as a defensive battle.
Utah took a 7-0 lead on a reverse by Cory Butler-Byrd, which was nearly a loss. But the senior receiver ducked inside as a defender hurtled at him, and juked his way to a 24-yard touchdown run.
After Oregon put together a field-goal drive, the teams traded yards but not scores for the rest of the half. A promising Utah drive into the red zone was cut short when Troy Williams fumbled and Oregon recovered. A deep Oregon drive in the second quarter was capped by a missed field goal. The teams went into the intermission with Utah carrying a 7-3 lead.
Utah's losses this year have been punctuated by anguish: They first tasted defeat by getting stuffed by Cal on the last three plays of the game at the goal line. They faltered against then-unbeaten Washington on a late punt-return touchdown.
But in a season in which losses have fallen inches short of victory, this game was a uniquely potent pain that curdled defensive end Hunter Dimick's face, split between confusion and heartbreak.
"It's hard to think right now, honestly," he said. "I'm going to try to focus on Colorado. It sucks right now, but we still have work to do."
R Oregon's offense scores TDs on final four drives.
• Darren Carrington catches game-winning pass with two seconds remaining.
• Oregon's offense totals 575 yards to Utah's 453, with 324 passing yards from Justin Herbert.