STANFORD, Calif. (AP) Utah and Stanford, the Pac-12’s ultimate grinders, needed more than 60 minutes to decide which team is the conference’s king of gritty victories.
And then they needed more.
Travis Wilson ended the defensive stalemate with a brief burst of offense in the second overtime, throwing a 3-yard touchdown pass to Kenneth Scott to send No. 25 Utah to a 20-17 win over Stanford on Saturday night.
”You see everybody on this team working so hard and to see it pay off, it’s pretty awesome,” Scott said.
Kaelin Clay, whose careless goal-line fumble swayed the momentum in a loss to Oregon last weekend, caught a 25-yard TD pass on a wheel route on the first play of overtime before the Cardinal came back with the tying score.
Jordan Williamson kicked a career-long 51-yard field goal – the same distance Stanford coach David Shaw passed up late in the fourth quarter – to start the second session, setting the stage for the Utes’ dramatic finish.
Wilson, who regained the starting quarterback job after Kendal Thompson’s season-ending knee injury against Oregon, found Scott on a slant route on third-and-1. Scott jumped up, lifted his arms in the air and was swarmed by teammates streaming into the end zone after spoiling Stanford’s Senior Day celebration.
The Utes improved to 2-1 in overtime. They had never played three overtime games in a season.
”It’s dramatically exciting,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
Utah (7-3, 4-3 Pac-12) also snapped a two-game losing streak and clinched its first winning season since 2011. The Cardinal (5-5, 3-4) dropped consecutive games for the first time since October 2009.
Stanford had been 10-0 following a loss under Shaw, and suddenly the two-time defending Pac-12 champions have bigger concerns. The Cardinal need to win one of their final two games on the road – at improved rival California and No. 14 UCLA – just to become bowl-eligible.
Stanford hasn’t missed a bowl game since Jim Harbaugh’s second year as coach in 2008, and the frustration of a surprisingly disappointing season is starting to simmer.
Seldom-used senior safety John Flacco, the brother of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, could be heard giving his teammates a profanity-laced speech in Stanford’s locker room during Shaw’s postgame news conference.
”We’ve got to fight to do better every week. It’s not about bowl games, it’s about paying respect to this game,” senior linebacker James Vaughters said.
The teams traded fruitless possessions for most of the game as the defenses dominated. Utah’s Tom Hackett and Stanford’s Ben Rhyne took turns flipping field position behind booming punts, and the Utes’ rugby-style kicker often crushed the competition.
The Cardinal still had a couple of chances to win in regulation.
Instead, Shaw opted to punt from Utah’s 34 with less than 2 minutes to play instead of allowing Williamson to kick a 51-yard field goal, drawing boos from the home crowd. Michael Rector also dropped a deep pass from Kevin Hogan that would’ve put the Cardinal inside the Utah 20 in the final seconds.
Shaw stood by his decision to punt and, in what has practically become a theme late this season, shouldered the blame for his team’s shortcomings again.
”Have the slings and arrows come toward me,” he said.
Stanford’s best shot in the second overtime fizzled when Nate Orchard sacked Hogan to force the Cardinal into the long field goal. Orchard, who also forced a fumble, finished with 3 1/2 sacks to push his total to 16 1/2 sacks this season, eclipsing Jimmy Bellamy’s school record of 15 in 1991.
Wilson threw for 177 yards and two touchdowns – both in overtime. Hogan threw for 104 yards and two TDs – including a 14-yarder to Austin Hooper in the first overtime – but struggled to move the offense most of the day.
Stanford converted a fourth-and-1 on the game’s opening drive, pitching it to freshman Christian McCaffrey for a 37-yard run to the Utah 10. Two plays later, Hogan threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to fullback Lee Ward.
The Cardinal appeared headed for another score in the second quarter when Orchard stripped the ball from Hooper, and Utah recovered at its 28. Wilson guided the Utes to a 72-yard TD drive that he capped with a tying 2-yard keeper before both teams went scoreless in the second half.
”I think that win meant more to us,” Wilson said. ”And I think that helped us kind of motivate us to push through all the way through overtime.”
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP