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Comeback for the ages: Utah football rallies past Washington State by scoring 38 unanswered points

Backup QB Drew Lisk provides the spark, while Ty Jordan rushes for 154 yards and 3 TDs as Utes finish 3-2 in pandemic-shortened season

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes wide receiver Britain Covey (18), grabs a pass and scores on a 91-yard touchdown play, in PAC-12 football acton between Utah Utes and Washington State Cougars at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020.

University of Utah football fans speak of “The Jason Shelley Game” with great reverence.

Shelley, pressed into late-season duty in 2018 with Tyler Huntley out for the season, engineered 28 straight points against BYU, capped by his own 33-yard run with 1:43 left for a 7-point win.

Saturday afternoon offered shades of that improbability as “The Drew Lisk Game” has now entered the program lexicon.

Lisk, a former walk-on, not to mention a redshirt senior who was on the fence about even returning for a fifth year, entered Utah lore by engineering four second-half touchdown drives in relief of a struggling Jake Bentley. Those four touchdowns were part of 38 unanswered second-half points as the Utes stormed back to defeat Washington State, 45-28, at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

UTAH 45, WASHINGTON STATE 28

• Utah scored 38 unanswered points in the second half to stun Washington State, 45-28

• On in relief of Jake Bentley, Drew Lisk engineered four second-half touchdown drives in finishing 15-for-26 for 152 yards

• Ty Jordan registered his third straight 100-yard game, rushing for 154 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries.

Utah (3-2) announced Friday morning that it would opt out of all bowl opportunities had it won Saturday afternoon to become bowl eligible. So Saturday was it for the Utes in 2020.

What a way to go out.

“In the end, I just decided I wasn’t ready to give it up yet, so I came back, came to work,” Lisk said of his decision to return for a fifth season. “It’s been a long five years, but it felt good today to get out there and play. I think that’s just a product of the culture here. The whole entire team, we show up every day and I’ve tried to buy into that. It paid off.”

Lisk (15-for-26, 152 yards) had already steered the Utah offense to three touchdown drives to tie the game at 28 thanks to Ty Jordan’s 33-yard fourth-quarter score on a fourth-and-1 with 12:01 left. Jordan finished his first collegiate season with a third straight monster game, going for 154 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries.

After the teams traded punts, senior free safety Vonte Davis popped Cougars star running back Max Borghi, jarring the ball loose deep in Washington State’s own end. Clark Phillips III scooped up the loose ball and returned it to the Washington State 7-yard line.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes linebacker Nephi Sewell (29), and Utah Utes defensive end Mika Tafua (42) celebrate a pick 6 touchdown by Utah Utes cornerback Clark Phillips III, in PAC-12 football acton between Utah Utes and Washington State Cougars at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020.

On the second play of the ensuing drive, Jordan broke a couple of tackles at the second level, then walked in from 13 yards out for his third score of the game with 6:29 left, giving Utah the lead at 35-28.

A 36-yard pick-six by Phillips III will stand as the highlight of his promising freshman season at cornerback, capping the scoring at 45-28 with 2:06 to play.

“It was either just throw out the white flag, or come ready to play, be the team we’re capable of being and play up to our capabilities,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “That was what happened in the second half, and that’s two strong second halves in a row. The Colorado game was very similar as well.”

In the middle of Lisk’s heroics, Utah’s defense overcame a shaky first half to put together a strong second half against Washington State’s run and shoot offense. The Cougars managed just 108 yards of total offense in the second half, while turning the ball over four times in the fourth quarter.

The second of those turnovers came on the first play after Utah took the 35-28 lead as Mika Tafua came off the edge to strip-sack Washington State freshman quarterback Jayden de Laura. Devin Kafusi recovered the fumble at the Utah 42.

Aided by a personal foul penalty on a Jared March punt, Utah cashed in on the de Laura fumble via Jadon Redding’s 44-yard field goal with 2:37 left, which gave the Utes some breathing room at 38-28. Redding, recipient of the last two Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week awards, finishes his sophomore season 8-for-8 on field goal attempts and 17-for-17 on extra points.

The tipping point for Whittingham with Bentley came on an inexplicable second-quarter interception in which he threw the ball right into the chest of Cougars cornerback Jahad Woods, who returned it 36 yards to the Utah 3.

De Laura walked in on the very next play for a 28-7 lead, and Bentley’s day was done, benched in favor of Lisk. Bentley finished 7-for-14 for 153 yards, but that yardage total was aided by a 91-yard Britain Covey catch-and-run touchdown on a wheel route in the second quarter.

“I think it was that interception,” Whittingham said. “The game is kind of a blur, but it was the turnover late in the first half. At that point, we made the decision to go with Drew.”

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