Final Score: Utah 30 Georgia Tech 27 (1 OT)
Utah rallied from 2 touchdowns down in the 4th quarter to force overtime, and eventually win their first bowl game as a member of the Pac-12, and the first bowl win this season for the conference, when John White IV ducked behind a lead block by Shawn Asiata, and then bulled his way into the end zone.
White, who set a new single season Utah rushing record on the way to the game tieing touchdown, finished with 115 yards on 26 carries. The second team All-Pac 12 running back, affectionately known as "The Wolfman", set off wolf calls in both El Paso and Salt Lake City * when he fought into the end zone to win the 78th. Hyundai Sun Bowl 30-27 over Georgia Tech from the ACC.
Most Utah fans felt their Utes, playing possibly their last game under the "Drum and Feather" logo, were left for dead when Yellow Jacket linebacker Quayshawn Nealy took his interception off Utah quarterback Jon Hayes back 74 yards for Georgia Tech's second touchdown in 30 seconds, and a 24-10 lead.
But there was still a third of the game left, and Utah didn't give up.
(* Warning about and apologies for the PG-13 reaction, our JazzyUte colleague at BlockU is a tad excitable.)
Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow, working his last game with the Utes before taking over as the head coach at Hawaii, surprised everyone by starting both halves of the game throwing.
The Utes have been more than largely a rushing team since losing quarterback Jordan Wynn in the first half of the second game of the year against USC, and Hays, who transferred to Utah after the Division II school he played for in Nebraska decided to shut down their program, was literally and figuratively into the fire.
In the first half, the throwing strategy caught Georgia Tech off guard, and staked Utah to a 7-0 lead on their first possession, after Hays found Asiata for a 1 yard touchdown.
It wasn't as effective in the second half, when Dres Anderson dropped a deep throw, something he probably hasn't had much experience with with Hays, and then Hays missed badly on two more deep routes.
The 10-7 lead Utah took into the second half didn't last long, as Justin Moore's field goal tied the game less than 5 minutes into the third quarter.
Tevin Washington's 31 yard touchdown toss to Stephen Hill that gave Georgia Tech a 17-10 lead was something of a surprise as well, given that the Yellow Jackets rely heavily on their triple option rushing game. Washington completed 11 of only 15 passes, for 137 yards, but the Yellow Jackets ran for 312 total yards, and got a game high 138 rushing yards from Preston Lyons, including a game tieing 36 yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Washington ran for almost as many yards as he threw for, netting 96.
Because of the clock eating ways of the Georgia Tech offense, and the reliance on the rushing game by Utah, overcoming a 2 touchdown deficit, even with 20 minutes to do it in, wasn't something Ute fans, or Tech fans for that matter, thought was likely.
Memories of Utah's having to settle for a 25 yard Coleman Peterson field goal seconds before halftime, after the Utes couldn't capitalize on a 31 yard run by Reggie Dunn down to the Georgia Tech 8 yard line were also still fresh in everyone's mind.
Consecutive 3 and punt possessions by Utah did nothing to allay those fears either, but they did burn off almost half of that time for a comeback.
But the Utah defense turned in a 3 and punt effort of their own, and the Utes finally fought their way back into the game. Hays, who completed only 48% of his passes in the game, suddenly became a clutch passer.
Hays mixed in completions to Asiata for 18 and 15 yards with 5 White runs, and then found Christopher, and then Moeai for the touchdown that made it a one play game. Hays completed 4 of 5 passes on the drive that cut the deficit to 24-17, but by then there were less than 7 minutes left.
The Utah defense came up with another 3 and out stand though, and Utah still had 4:21 to work with though. But the Georgia Tech defense proceeded to come up with their own 3 and out stand, forcing the Utes to punt. Many Utah fans could be heard expressing disagreement with Ute coach Kyle Whittingham's decision to not gamble the game, even though Utah was buried on their own 25 yard line.
Punting was the right decision though, as Utah still had 3 time outs left. The Ute defense came up with their third consecutive 3 and punt stop, and by using their timeouts, they only needed 27 seconds to do it.
It looked like Utah's bubble might be burst when Christopher couldn't haul in Hays' pass in the left corner of the end zone, even though replay showed a missed pass interference grab of Christopher's arm.
Chow saw that the call was sound, and the play was there, and had Hays go right back to Christopher on the left sideline, and a 28 yard scoring strike tied the game at 24-24 with 1:32 left.
Which was almost a case of scoring too soon, as Washington ran 4 times and completed 2 passes, and drove the Yellow Jackets down to the Ute 31 yard line.
Regular placekicker Justin Moore had missed 2 of 3 field goal attempts earlier in the game, both wide from 42 yards out, so Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson opted to have kickoff specialist David Scully attempt the 48 yard game winner. And his kick was plenty long, but from the right hash mark, started and stayed right of the upright, forcing overtime.
The Utah defense turned in yet another stop, and Georgia Tech had to settle for Moore's 34 yard field goal.
Which set the table for Utah's game winning drive.
After Dunn and White chipped away for 7 yards, Hays hit Asiata for his game high 5th catch of the afternoon, and a first down at the 9 yard line. White took over from there.
After a pair of 3 yard runs, a communications break down caused a false start by Utah left tackle John Cullen, but that merely gave Asiata room to get a lead block, which allowed White to get inside the 2 yard line before first contact, and then drive on into the end zone.
"They trusted me with the ball, so I saw Shawn Asiata blast somebody, and I knew I was going to go in," White said.
Hays completed only 15 of 32 passes, but was 7 of 11, including the missed pass interference incompletion, down the stretch.
"There's no quit in these guys," Whitingham said. "They kept believing, coaches kept believing, and we found a way to win in the end."
The job the Utah defense did, allowing only 1 rushing touchdown to the Georgia Tech triple option, was as impressive as what White and Hays did though.
"It was a heck of a football game, and you have to take your hat off to Utah for the way the came back in the game," Johnson added. "We had a lot of opportunities, and we should have put the game away in the fourth quarter, be we just couldn't capitalize. We didn't make enough plays, and we missed three field goals."
Georgia Tech and Utah both finished 8-5 for the season. For the Yellow Jackets, it was quite the disappointment, after a 6-0 start to the season. In contrast, after a 3-4 start, and a 0-4 start to their first Pac-12 season, Utah has to be quite pleases with their 8-5 finish.
It was the 7th. consecutive bowl game loss for Georgia Tech, dating back to a 38-10 loss in the 2005 Emerald Bowl in San Francisco, ironically, to Utah.
The win boosted Utah's winning percentage in bowls to.765, best in the NCAA.
The win also earned a measure of conference bragging rights, after earlier losses by Arizona St, 56-24 to Boise St.in the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl, California, 21-10 to Texas in the Bridgeport Education Holiday Bowl, and Washington, 67-56 to Baylor in the Valero Alamo Bowl, got the Pac-12 off to a 0-3 start to the bowl season.