Utah 35, Navy 32

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

Invite the Utah Utes to a bowl game and the odds are pretty good they're going to win.

Brian Johnson threw for one touchdown and ran for another, and Utah opened the bowl season with a wild 35-32 victory over the Navy Midshipmen in the Poinsettia Bowl on Thursday night.

It was Utah's seventh straight bowl victory dating to 1999.

"Seven straight bowl wins, not a lot of people can say that," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "I tell you what, our seniors are 5-0. Fifth-year seniors, five bowl games, five rings. Unbelievable, the legacy they left behind."

Boston College has won seven straight bowl games going into its matchup against Michigan State in the Champs Sports Bowl next Friday.

Running back Darrell Mack, who grew up in the San Diego area, scored the first and last touchdowns for Utah (9-4), which won for the eighth time in nine games.

The loss spoiled the head coaching debut of Navy's Ken Niumatalolo, who was promoted from assistant head coach and offensive line coach after Paul Johnson left for Georgia Tech.

Navy (8-5) had its four-game winning streak snapped.

"More than anything, I feel for our seniors," Niumatalolo said. "I'll coach again."

The Poinsettia Bowl is run by the same group that puts on the Holiday Bowl, so it was fitting that the teams combined for 50 points in the second half.

The game came down to a crazy final minute.

Navy pulled to 35-32 on Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada's 58-yard touchdown pass to Zerbin Singleton with 57 seconds left.

Singleton recovered the onside kick at the 42, but Kaheaku-Enhada was intercepted by safety Joe Dale on the second play of the drive to seal the victory. Dale had a team-high 12 tackles.

There was a questionable call late in the game.

With his Utes leading 28-25, Jerome Brooks caught a 3-yard pass from Johnson and lost the ball as he was diving for the corner of the end zone. The ball hit the pylon and went out of bounds. Officials could have ruled it a touchback for Navy, but after a review, the call on the field stood.

On the next play, Mack was stuffed for no gain on fourth-and-goal from the 1.

Navy ended up getting stopped on fourth-and-2 from its 9.

Afterward, the officials released a statement saying a mistake was made, and the play should have been ruled a touchback, with Navy getting the ball at its 20.

"Who knows?" Kaheaku-Enhada said when asked if the controversial call made a difference. "We run the same three plays, if the ball's on the 1 or the ball's on the 20."

Johnson took a hit in the third quarter that seemed to wake him up.

He completed 11 straight passes spanning the second and third quarters. He expertly ran Utah's spread-option offense in leading Utes back from a 17-7 deficit by going 9-for-9 for 130 yards in the third quarter.

"Our four wide receivers did a great job for me making plays all night," Johnson said. "It feels great to keep the bowl streak going."

After Brooks scored on a 23-yard end-around pitch to pull the Utes within three, they went ahead on Johnson's 40-yard pass to Derrek Richards with 1:12 left in the third quarter.

Johnson scored on a 19-yard scramble early in the fourth quarter to give Utah a 28-17 lead.

Navy, which seemed to be wearing down against the larger Utes, got a 10-yard touchdown pass from Kaheaku-Enhada to Shun White, and a conversion run by Kaheaku-Enhada to pull to 28-25 with 8:48 left.

Mack's 1-yard TD run with 1:27 left seemed to give Utah a safe lead before Kaheaku-Enhada's big pass play.

"It feels good to come back home and win this kind of game," Mack said. "It was a good game, a lot of entertainment out there for the people who paid good money. I just wanted to go out there and play well in front of my family."

Johnson was 20-of-25 passing for 226 yards, with one interception. He ran 11 times for 69 yards.

After three turnovers in the first 7:20, the teams settled down.

Mack scored on a 5-yard run midway through the first quarter for a 7-0 Utah lead.

Navy then got its triple-option offense moving to score 17 straight points.

Kaheaku-Enhada scored on a 1-yard run, Joey Bullen kicked a 39-yard field goal and Eric Kettani broke a 46-yard scoring run.

"We definitely had opportunities in the first half, but we turned the ball over," Niumatalolo said. "I felt like we could have put the game away, or at least gotten some separation there."

Kettani carried 12 times for 125 yards.


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