David Zalubowski/Associated Press
BOULDER – Reggie Dunn got his hands on the football just one time Friday, and that’s all he needed to send Utah past Colorado 42-35, sealing the worst season in CU’s storied history.
“I can’t for the life of me figure out why they kicked to Reggie Dunn,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “But we’re glad they did.”
Utah’s last two opponents, Washington and Arizona, used short kickoffs to keep the ball away from the NCAA record-holding returner, and the Buffs used booming touchbacks at altitude to do the same thing for most of the afternoon.
Yet, following Marques Mosley’s 100-yard kickoff return for a Colorado score, Buffaloes kicker Zach Grossnickle booted it right to Dunn, who responded with his own 100-yard touchdown return 13 seconds after Mosley’s to break a 35-35 tie.
Buffaloes coach Jon Embree didn’t say exactly why the Buffaloes kicked off to Dunn, but he did say there were some substitutes on the coverage team.
“We had some guys that were hurt, so we had to put some other guys in there,” he said. “They got hurt like two plays before, so there was a little bit of chaos.”
Dunn extended his NCAA record with his fifth career 100-yard kickoff return – and his fourth this season.
“That’s got to be the most memorable, man,” said Dunn, a senior. “The last game of my collegiate career and to end a game like that, unbelievable.”
After Mosley’s 100-yard touchdown, “everybody was like, ‘Just match ’em,’” Dunn said. “We knew we could do it. We feel like we’re the best kickoff return team in the nation.”
And the best returner.
“He’s a beast,” Utes running back John White said. “He’s the record holder. You kick it to him, you’re going to pay for it.”
In a big way.
The Utes (5-7, 3-6 Pac-12) doubled their season total with four interceptions of Nick Hirschman, and they sent the Buffaloes (1-11, 1-8) to their worst finish since the school’s inaugural 0-4 campaign in 1890.
Colorado also failed to win a game at home for the first time since 1920.
“Tough game, tough loss,” said a weeping Embree, adding he was infuriated that a fan berated one of his disconsolate players coming off the field.
The Utes, who hadn’t won on the road all season, outscored Colorado 22-7 down the stretch after third-quarter touchdown runs of 3 yards by Tony Jones and 5 yards by Donta Abron gave the Buffaloes a 28-20 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The teams combined for 21 points in a stunning 29-second span after Moe Lee’s crucial interception at the Colorado 30-yard line:
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson scored on a 9-yard keeper to break a 28-28 tie with 8:41 remaining.
Mosley returned the kickoff 100 yards to tie it back up at 35. It was Colorado’s first kickoff return for a score in three years.
Dunn then raced 100 yards down the Utes’ exuberant sideline one last time to cap his record-breaking collegiate career.
“It’s just amazing,” Dunn said. “They return one back, and then we return one, just hushed their crowd, and our defense ends it like it’s supposed to be.”
The Utes got the ball back on downs, then punted before Brian Blechen corralled Hirschman’s fourth interception to seal it.
“It’s a real good memory to have,” White said. “But you still have that bad taste in your mouth because we didn’t get to a bowl game. But at least we go out on a good note.”
White, whose right arm was in a sling after the game, ran 20 times for 168 yards and became the first Utah player with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. His score from 11 yards out with 10:50 left pulled Utah to 28-26. The Utes tied it when Jake Murphy took the direct snap and threw a 2-point jump pass to fellow tight end David Rolf to tie it at 28.
On the next play from scrimmage, Lee picked off Hirschman. Four plays later, the Utes set up in a five-wide receiver set, and Wilson scampered in for the go-ahead score with 8:41 left before the teams traded 100-yard kickoff returns.
“This game kind of summarizes the year: close but still a ways to go,” said Embree, who is expected to part ways with some of his coaching staff, including defensive coordinator Greg Brown and maybe even longtime friend and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy after going 4-21 in two seasons.
Tight end Nick Kasa, one of eight seniors, left Folsom Field with his head held high, determined not to let the woeful season define him any longer.
“What defines me is we fought our butts off to win this game,” he said. “And I’m going to keep that going in my life. The main thing that (we) learned is that hard work will eventually lead to success, and unfortunately it didn’t here, but I’m not stopping. Neither are any of us.”