This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated.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 same day in October 2014 when Travis Wilson rallied Utah to a victory over USC with a last-minute touchdown pass, Troy Williams struggled as Washington's starting quarterback in a loss to Arizona State.
The Trojans returned to Rice-Eccles Stadium on Friday night and Williams resembled Wilson, in the end of another "Blackout" game. Williams' 18-yard TD pass to Tim Patrick with 16 seconds left topped a 15-play, 93-yard drive that gave the Utes a 31-27 victory in his first Pac-12 start since that rainy day in Seattle.
Ultimately, all it took was one USC punt.
Once the Utes finally forced the Trojans to kick the football back to them in the fourth quarter, the offense took care of the rest by reprising the last-minute touchdown that beat the Trojans two years ago. That 24-21 win was a huge breakthrough in Utah's Pac-12 era and this one might become even bigger, if the Utes follow through with their first South division championship.
"These are the ones you dream about when you're a little kid, playing teams like that and winning," said Ute offensive lineman Isaac Asiata.
Never mind that Utah would have needed only a field goal to force overtime, in this episode. The winning touchdown drive that included two fourth-down conversions via short-yardage runs will be long remembered, thanks to the ending.
Until then, the biggest shock of the night was Utah's defensive performance. The Utes allowed 267 total yards in the first half. And then USC went 91 yards for a touchdown on its first possession of the second half, building a 24-10 lead behind quarterback Sam Darnold, a redshirt freshman making his first start.
The Trojans topped the 400-yard mark by the end of the third quarter and finished with 466 yards. But the Utes recovered three fumbles in the first half and made a critical stop near midfield midway through the fourth quarter, giving the offense its game-winning opportunity. The Utes posted 456 yards of their own and came through in the end.
With a junior college season in between his time at Washington and now at Utah, Williams showed tremendous poise in directing three touchdown drives in the second half and the offense "made play after play after play at the end, when we had to be making plays," said Ute coach Kyle Whittingham.
Whittingham could have ordered a field-goal attempt from 52 or 40 yards, but twice went for the first down on fourth down and less than a yard to go and Armand Shyne and Zack Moss easily converted in each case.
By the look of things Friday night, nobody is going to run away with the Pac-12 South championship.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, who attended the game, was asked if he fights with the mixed feelings of wanting competitive balance in the conference and hoping an elite team emerges in the College Football Playoff.
"I'm not torn I want both," he said, smiling. "If you're a commissioner, you absolutely want depth. I think that's the hallmark of the great conferences, top to bottom."
Scott continued, "For the Pac-12 to get the respect it deserves … the next step is to win a national championship."
What became clear amid the rain and clouds at Rice-Eccles Stadium is the South will become another fight to the finish in 2016. USC may have been the more desperate team in this matchup, but that's not to say the Utes' conference opener was any less important to them.
And they came out ahead Friday. That gives them a huge advantage over USC, which lost to Stanford last week in its Pac-12 opener. And now the Utes will hope Stanford defeats UCLA on Saturday. In any case, beating the Trojans will always be meaningful to Utah, especially when it happens so dramatically.
"I keep saying it over and over and I think people don't believe me, but they're a talented football team," Whittingham said.
The first quarter was crazy, with each team moving the ball efficiently but producing only one offensive touchdown. That score came via Williams' 10-yard run the last of 12 straight running plays on the Utes' first possession, covering 59 yards. That was almost exactly how Utah treated lowly Oregon State last October.
The Trojans answered Utah's opening score with Adoree' Jackson's 100-yard kickoff return, matching his runback of two years ago in this venue, and the tone of the game changed.
Utah didn't do much offensively the rest of the half, although Williams' 40-yard completion to Patrick led to an Andy Phillips field goal for a 10-7 lead. Ronald Jones' 50-yard run led to a USC touchdown, launching a Trojan run of 17 points that carried into the third quarter.
The Utes' next fumble recovery earned them a touchdown by the offense. Shyne took a handoff and fumbled at the goal line, but Asiata recovered the ball in the end zone.
After an USC field goal, the Ute offense delivered again with Raelon Singleton's 10-yard TD reception cutting the lead to 27-24 with 9:45 remaining.
Utah finally forced a USC punt and took over at its 7-yard line. Thanks to a well-place punt, USC coach Clay Helton's decision on fourth and 3 from the Utah 37 "worked out how we wanted it," he said. But a pass-interference penalty got the Utes going, and they never stopped.