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Kyle Whittingham walked off the field Saturday night, a mile-deep look of relief on his face and a worrisome win in his pocket. The victor of the 97th rivalry game between Utah and BYU was supposed to be the team that embraced the emotion and used it to further its focus and fuel its play.

That's not exactly what happened.

Not going to say this was a game both teams deserved to lose, not with the way it ended, but ...


Finals numbers on the board: Utah 20, BYU 19.

The score was close but this was one hellish thing - until a final elongated Ute drive that was as comely as the rest of the game was unappealing, except that it ended in a field goal, giving BYU one last possession to tie with a TD and a PAT or win with a two-point conversion. That subsequent Cougars touchdown drive was terrific, handing them their chance. It ended, fittingly enough, though, in a mixed-up call, bad execution, and another loss.

"My stomach was churning, I thought I was getting an ulcer," Whittingham said. "… Pretty exciting game. What can you say?"

You can say: It wasn't ugly, it was oooooogly.

"You're not going to win many games against quality opponents turning the ball over six times," is what Whittingham said.

You want to hear about mistakes, all around?

Taysom Hill being hit by Hunter Dimick as Hill's pass was snatched out of the air by Utah linebacker Sunia Tauteoli at midfield and Hill floating a ball straight into the hands of Reggie Porter in the second half and Tauteoli's pick-six off Hill on the first play of the game? You want to revisit the six fumbles gagged up by Utah, three of them lost, and the three interceptions thrown by Troy Williams?

The turnover count was: Utah 6, BYU 3.

Or would you rather consider a questionable referee's targeting call near the end of the third quarter, a penalty and an ejection against BYU's Kai Nacua on a legal hit by the safety? Or Kalani Sitake subsequently getting hit with his first unsportsmanlike penalty of his head-coaching career?

Everybody was having a bad night here.

Or would you rather focus on the minimal bursts of positivity — most of them coming in the last minutes of the first half, when back-to-back touchdown drives, one by BYU, one by Utah, anchored the early scoring, and those aforementioned drives at the end of the second, neither of them finishing the way the coaches wished?

Or maybe you want to focus on defense, a much happier topic for both teams than most anything that occurred on offense? Utah gained 363 yards, BYU just 328. Even with the guts shown near the end, the flubs and fumbles cannot be ignored or glossed over.

The aforementioned first play of the game, before Utah fans could chew their first nacho, looked oh-so familiar: A BYU pass, this time delivered by Hill, that turned into a Ute touchdown.

A minute in, it was apparent that, if the Cougars would win, Sitake had to settle his team in a major way and redirect its focus in just his second game at the helm. Later, it was Whittingham who had to do some stellar settling and coaching.

Neither completely happened, at least not until the end, when the Utes found it within themselves to run and pass through all the carnage and BYU soared to its opportunity … but on a gutsy/risky/foolish play-call to win, couldn't convert. Sitake said afterward there was never a doubt that he would go for two and the win. Whittingham said he would have done the same.

The Cougars deserve credit for their gumption — they easily could have sent the matter into overtime — and, then, criticism for their lack of nailing the play.

But it was that kind of game.

"That's the game of football," Sitake said.

It was this game. Masterpieces were painted here and there, just not often.

"We dodged a bullet," Whittingham said. "It speaks to the team's resiliency and toughness."

There was that, and it's notable, just enough of those last things to get his reward on a crazy, emotional night.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.