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January 1, 2012
Utes win Sun Bowl in dramatic fashion
Kyle Whittingham's Utes closed out their inaugural Pac-12 season in dramatic fashion on Saturday with a come-from-behind 30-27 overtime victory over Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
Running back John White sealed the victory on an eight yard draw play for a touchdown by crashing through multiple Georgia Tech defenders before reaching the end zone. The fact that the Utes called White's number to take the win was fitting, as he had carried much of the offensive load all season.
Although White had the big play to finish the game, he needed a lot of help along the way. The third quarter was a near disaster for Utah. Big plays in the passing game from Georgia Tech combined with the Utah offense's complete inability to move the ball resulted in the Yellow Jackets taking a 24-10 lead going into the fourth quarter.
However, it was in the fourth quarter where the Utes came alive. After struggling for most of the day, quarterback Jon Hays engineered a 10 play, 71 yard drive that ended in a short touchdown pass to tight end Kendrick Moeai with 6:50 remaining.
The Ute defense then stepped up and did its part, forcing a three and out and giving the offense a chance to tie the game. However, the Utes failed to pick up a first down, and punted to Georgia Tech with under three minutes left on the clock. "[We] thought about going for it on fourth and three down in our own territory with like 2:55 left, but we had all three timeouts [and] our defense had been playing pretty well. We thought if we could get a three and out we could get the ball back with like 2:30 or something like that," explained Whittingham.
The decision to punt payed off, as the Ute defense held Tech to their third consecutive three and out series and Griff McNabb returned the punt to the Yellow Jacket 24 yard line. After three plays that led nowhere, Hays hit junior receiver Devonte Christopher with a perfectly placed touchdown pass on 4th and 14 tying the score at 24.
"We just had to find our hearts and just try to go out there and win the game. We're down two touchdowns but after we scored one I knew we had a chance," said White
Despite the furious comeback, Georgia Tech wasn't finished just yet. Tech's option heavy offense went through the air, moving the Yellow Jackets into field goal range with two seconds left in regulation. At that point, Tech kicker David Scully had a chance to win the game outright, but his 48 yard kick sailed wide right, sending the game into overtime. The Georgia Tech special teams unit - who missed three field goals on the day - made amends in overtime by connecting on a 34 yard field goal, but White's heroics for the Utes on 3rd and goal sealed the victory outright for Utah.
For the Utes, the dramatic comeback was a testament to the toughness that Whittingham has tried to instill in his Utah program. "There's no quit in these guys. They kept believing, coaches kept believing, and we found a way to win in the end," said Whittingham.