LAS VEGAS (AP) – The third time really was the charm for the Utah football team.
After two losses in the Pac-12 Championship Game, the Utes football team blew out Oregon for the second time in three weeks to clinch its first bid to the Rose Bowl, 38-10.
Devin Lloyd returned an interception for a touchdown, Cam Rising threw for another score and No. 14 Utah clinched its first Pac-12 Championship.
All year long, the Utes have been inspired by the memories of Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe, who were tragically killed in separate shootings within nine months of each other. And in the biggest game of the season, their presence was felt strongly.
“Our mantra after the tragedy was we’re not going to get over it, but we’ll get through it,” coach Kyle Whittingham said. “I believe our guys really did that and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
“We’ve got a lot of toughness in us and resiliency, said Lloyd, who was named MVP of the game. “But at the same time, I also believe that they were there guiding us throughout the whole season. They were able to help us create things that I don’t think we ever would have done without them.”
This game was a near carbon copy of the one in Salt Lake City two weeks ago when the Utes (10-3, No. 17 CFP) jumped out early and won 38-7.
While that game all but ended the playoff hopes for Oregon (10-3, No. 10), the rematch delivered the Utes the Rose Bowl prize they had been seeking since joining the Pac-12 in 2011.
Utah had lost its first two trips to the conference title game, including two years ago to Oregon, but left little doubt this time.
“We’ve just been working away on it ever since we joined the league,” Whittingham said. “This is the culmination of a lot of years of hard work and effort, not only by us, but everyone involved. It takes a lot of people to make this thing go.”
Rising engineered a TD drive on the opening possession after converting a sneak on fourth down near midfield. Tavon Thomas capped it with a 2-yard run.
Lloyd then returned an interception 34 yards for a score later in the first quarter and Utah put the game away by scoring twice in the final 27 seconds of the first half.
Rising hit Dalton Kincaid on an 11-yard pass with 27 seconds left. Then Malone Mataele intercepted an ill-advised pass from Anthony Brown to set up Jadon Redding’s 50-yard field goal on the final play of the half to make it 23-0.
The Utes led the game two weeks ago 28-0 at the half.
“Honestly, it seemed kind of similar,” Ducks safety Verone McKinley III said. “It’s tough because we felt prepared. We felt we had a good game plan and then to let what happened happen again was a tough pill to swallow.”
Thomas and T.J. Pledger added TD runs in the second half for the Utes to the delight of the huge contingent of Utah fans among the 56,511 in attendance for the first title game in Las Vegas.
Utah will learn its opponent in the Rose Bowl on Sunday. It will most likely either be Iowa or Ohio State.