Hallandale Trio produces Utah’s first three touchdowns on the ground vs. Northern Illinois

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes wide receiver Demari Simpkins (3) celebrates after scoring a touchdown for the Utes, in football action between Northern Illinois Huskies and Utah Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019.

Utah running back Zack Moss didn’t defer his NFL opportunity for a year merely to join former Florida high school teammates Tyler Huntley and Demari Simpkins in victories against the likes of Northern Illinois.

Even so, the Hallandale Trio created another memory of their Ute tenures by each rushing for a touchdown Saturday in a 35-17 defeat of their Mid-American Conference opponent at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The scoring order made the achievement even more noteworthy. Utah's second-quarter touchdowns on three straight drives were scored on runs by a receiver (Simpkins), a quarterback (Huntley) and Moss, giving the Utes a 21-17 halftime lead.

“It was pretty cool to see everybody get in the end zone,” said Moss, who added a third-quarter touchdown, followed by Huntley's pass to Jaylen Dixon for Utah's final TD in the fourth period.

The three (who wear Nos. 1, 2 and 3 for Utah) played together at Hallandale only as seniors. Huntley and Moss remembered all three scoring in a game for the high-powered Chargers, but probably not by rushing, in Simpkins' case.

Sweeps by the receivers are a staple of Ute offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig's scheme, designed to take advantage of defenses preoccupied with runs up the middle. Those plays can be especially effective near the goal line. Simpkins became Utah's second receiver to score via rushing this season when he took a handoff and ran 13 yards.

Huntley then kept the ball for a 16-yard score on a zone-read option play, another way of dealing with a defense that's designed to stop a traditional run. Moss' 16-yard TD on Utah's next possession came on one of his classic runs, as he plowed through defenders on his way to the end zone. Moss added a 5-yard touchdown on Utah's first drive of the third quarter, so the Hallandale Trio accounted for all four of Utah's rushing TDs and Huntley threw the touchdown pass.

“Those three guys are terrific — great teammates and great team players since they got here from day one,” said Ute coach Kyle Whittingham. “They’re disciplined, they’re talented, they work hard. I can’t say enough good things about all three guys.”

The trio’s only real blemish Saturday was Simpkins’ drop of Huntley’s short pass on a third-down play in the fourth quarter. Simpkins made two receptions for 22 yards and remains Utah’s leading receiver this season with six catches for 57 yards.