Carson, Calif. • Kyle Whittingham had seen enough.
Past the midway point of the third quarter Saturday evening, the University of Utah’s offense wasn’t getting anything accomplished. The Utes trailed San Diego State, by two scores, so Whittingham gave a proverbial tap on the shoulder to Cam Rising.
Rising was told he was coming on in relief of Charlie Brewer, so with about 45 seconds left in a media timeout, the fourth-year sophomore threw three balls, then went out there to try and save the day.
There is a strong case to be made that Rising will not come out again. His 153 yards and three touchdowns came on 19-for-32 passing from the 5:24 mark of the third quarter on, but those heroics could not ultimately save the Utes, who were sloppy for three quarters in falling to the Aztecs, 33-31, in triple overtime at Dignity Health Sports Park.
“We needed a spark,” Whittingham said. “We have an excellent quarterback in Cam Rising, who’s the No. 2 guy, and why not give him a shot? He’s worked hard in practice, as hard as anybody else. He’s prepared the right way and I had no doubt in my mind he was ready to play, because that’s the type of kid he is. Given the circumstances, he deserved that opportunity.”
That opportunity came in large part to Brewer presiding over drives that ended in seven punts, plus a crushing interception by Tayler Hawkins on a pass Brewer badly telegraphed. Hawkins returned it to the Utah 7-yard line, Greg Bell ran the ball in on the next play for his second touchdown in a 42-second span, and the Aztecs, who beat Arizona last week, took a 24-10 lead with 10:42 left in the third quarter.
Rising engineered a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives, the second one ending with him firing a 4-yard pass to Theo Howard in the back of the end zone with 16 seconds left. Connor O’Toole’s two-point conversion catch sent a seemingly-lost evening to overtime.
“It was an amazing feeling just to fight back from the situation we were in and dig ourselves out of that hole,” Rising said. “It was a great feeling, but we have to finish.”
The teams traded touchdown passes, then traded missed field goals, and finally, daylight came for San Diego State.
With new college football overtime rules dictating that teams must run a two-point conversion beginning in the third overtime, San Diego State converted its try, but Rising’s pass to O’Toole was low and slipped out of his hands after it was initially ruled a catch. Replays showed the ball hit the turf and O’Toole did not have control, ending the night, and Utah’s nonconference slate with Pac-12 play opening next Saturday vs. Washington State at Rice-Eccles Stadium (12:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
Whittingham did not name his starting quarterback, but did indicate that a decision would be made ahead of the team returning to practice on Monday.
“I saw his maturity as far as being in this offense for three years and being a leader,” Devin Lloyd said after registering a game-high 13 tackles from his linebacker spot. “He’s always been a gamer, he’s been a baller since he came here. He just put that on display.”
Rising’s emergence coincided with Britain Covey’s most productive game of the still-young season. The redshirt junior slot receiver had eight catches for 46 yards and a touchdown. Six of those eight catches came from Rising, while his 80-yard punt-return touchdown woke up a crowd that included a heavy Utah contingent.
Covey finished with 203 all-purpose yards, 132 of those coming off six punt returns.