Utah holds off BYU 19-13 for seventh consecutive win in rivalry

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes defensive back Casey Hughes (25) pushes Brigham Young Cougars running back Trey Dye (4) into the ground as BYU hosts Utah, NCAA football in Provo, Saturday September 9, 2017.

Provo • BYU’s struggling offense met Utah’s brick wall of a defense on Saturday night, and the result was pretty much what everybody expected in what is annually one of the most unpredictable rivalries in the country.

Holding the Cougars to a mere 233 yards and forcing three turnovers, the Utes pounded out their seventh-straight win over their instate rivals. Former Utah Valley University soccer player Matt Gay kicked four field goals and quarterback Tyler Huntley ran for a score and threw for 300 yards in a 19-13 Utah victory in front of a sell-out crowd of 63,470 at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

“We didn’t expect to come in here and just have an easy time,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who improved to 9-3 against his former school. “I knew it was going to be a dogfight. Every single one of these is. It’s how it goes. It’s down to the last series or the last play. Tonight was no different. I said that all week long. I don’t care what had happened previously. That’s just how this series has been. It’s been very hard-fought.”

Huntley, who ired BYU fans earlier in the week when he said the Utes don’t lose to the people down south, delivered on his haughty proclamation by also rushing for 89 yards in his first rivalry game.

“He’s elusive and he’s slippery,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said of Huntley. “I thought they did a good job preparing him for the game.”

Meanwhile, BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum failed to show the same promise as the last time he faced the Utes — until it was too late. Mangum directed an 11-play, 76-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter to cut Utah’s lead to six with two minutes, 38 seconds remaining.

BYU forced a Utah punt and took over with 1:34 left on its own 8-yard-line and a timeout remaining, but Aleva Hifo and Beau Tanner dropped passes and Utah held on 4th-and-4.

Mangum finished 21 of 39 for 170 yards.

“That team played that we played tonight, they’re well-coached,” Whittingham said. “I love their head coach. I love what he’s doing. They played hard. Statistically — the score was closer than the statistics.”

However, the Cougars were only in the game late because the Utes had trouble scoring touchdowns in the red zone.

The Utes went ahead 16-0 early in the third quarter after defensive lineman Filipo Mokofisi caught a Mangum pass that was deflected at the line of scrimmage. Utah took over at the BYU 23 and Huntley eventually scored from the 5-yard line on a busted play.

On BYU’s next possession, it was Jaylon Johnson’s turn to pick off Mangum, who also threw three interceptions to Utah in Las Vegas. But Huntley gave the ball right back to the Cougars on the next play, fumbling a handoff attempt, and BYU finally scored a touchdown after going nearly nine quarters without one.

“I am proud of the way we put those drives together,” Sitake said. “It gave us a chance to win at the end.”

The Cougars forced a three-and-out on Utah’s next possession, but couldn’t keep their newfound momentum. Mangum was sacked by Cody Barton on first down, and BYU eventually had to punt.

The Utes then put together a 10-play, 66-yard drive that resulted in Gay’s fourth field goal and a 19-6 lead.

The Cougars’ second touchdown drive came after they stopped the Utes on 4th-and-1 from their 19, with Whittingham opting to go for it instead of settling for a fifth field goal that would have put his club up by 16.

“I should have gone to [Matt Gay] there on 4th-and-1 to make it a three-score game,” Whittingham said. “I’ve got to just listen to myself and not get caught up in some things. He may not have made it. Who knows? But that was probably the wrong decision to make to go for it at that time.”

The Utes struck first for the sixth straight rivalry game after Boobie Hobbs intercepted Mangum and returned it 33 yards to the BYU 9. Gay’s 21-yard field goal made it 3-0.

A strange first quarter filled with bizarre plays ended with the Utes clinging to that lead and the Cougars with 61 yards.

Neither team was sharp early. The Utes fumbled the opening kickoff and had two bad snaps on their first possession, while BYU’s Trey Dye dropped a pass the first time the Cougars touched the ball.

The Utes caught a big break on their second possession when Fred Warner dislodged the ball from Raelon Singleton, but it bounced away from Butch Pau’u and Singleton recovered his own drop.

The Cougars caught their first big break later in the quarter when Chase Hansen hit Mangum as he was throwing. Kavika Luafatasaga scooped up the loose ball and returned it deep into BYU territory, but officials ruled it an incomplete pass upon review.

Replay officials were busy in the first half — upholding a ruling that a punt didn’t hit a prone Utah player on its 7-yard line, and also upholding linebacker Sunia Tauteoli’s ejection for targeting.

The on-field refs also got involved. BYU had an apparent touchdown pass to Talon Shumway taken off the board because Aleva Hifo was flagged for offensive pass interference, an illegal pick that freed Shumway. A play later, Rhett Almond missed a 28-yard field goal attempt.

Just more than three minutes later, officials flagged Utah’s Siaosi Wilson for the same transgression and took a would-be TD catch by Carrington off the board. Wilson had put the Utes in scoring territory with a 48-yard reception.

But BYU’s defense held, and Gay booted a 25-yard field goal to put the Utes up 6-0 with 6:02 remaining in the second quarter.

The Utes put together their best drive of the first half in the final four minutes, but committed another costly penalty — a holding call on 1st-and-goal from the 3 — and had to settle for another Gay field goal, this time from 31 yards as time expired to take a 9-0 lead into the locker room.

The Utes had 239 yards at halftime, while holding the Cougars to 102.

Huntley was 13 of 18 for 154 yards in the first half, and also had 11 carries for 72 yards.

Mangum was 9 of 13 for 76 yards in the first half, with the one interception by Hobbs.

“I thought that Utah played a great game, especially defensively,” Sitake said.