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A Wacky Victory for Utah : College football: Utes hold off Colorado State in battle of WAC unbeatens, 45-31.


FT. COLLINS, Colo. — You needed No-Doz in the first half and a calculator in the second to properly appreciate 18th-ranked Utah's 45-31 victory over No. 12 Colorado State on Saturday in a battle of Western Athletic Conference unbeatens.

A 9-7 game at halftime turned into a combined 60-point scorefest in the last two quarters. In those crazed final 30 minutes, there were four lead changes, seven offensive touchdowns, two two-point conversions, two bizarre formations, one field goal and one 100-yard interception return. No wonder the Hughes Stadium scoreboard malfunctioned late in the third quarter; its press box operator had finger cramps.

Just when the WAC thought it was turning into the Big Ten Jr.--"We Love Defense!"--the ghosts from the conference's past arrived in time for the second half, transforming a dull, error-filled game into a thrilling, error-filled finish. It was the WAC at its former best: unpredictable, unusual and, at times, unbelievable.

"I always call it the 'Wacky WAC,' " Utah quarterback Mike McCoy said, "because you never know what's going to happen. Today was one of those wacky games."

The strangeness began with the rankings and the records. Since when did Utah and Colorado State begin the eighth week of the season with unbeaten records and a nation's attention? And who's the WAC propaganda expert who convinced everyone that actual defense was played in this league?

By day's end, Utah, supposedly the fourth-best defensive team in the country, had given up 31 points and 470 yards. And Colorado State, coached by Sonny Lubick, architect of Miami's defense during two national championship seasons, watched as McCoy completed 25 of 33 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns.

"I didn't expect it to be anything like that," McCoy said. "It was just big play after big play."

And this from Colorado State cornerback Ray Jackson, who shook his head in disbelief when reminded of the second-half scoring outburst: "I figured there might be another field goal or two. That's it."

Colorado State (7-1) can blame only itself for the loss. Never mind the third-quarter lead it let slip away, or the failure to hold after tying the score, 31-31, in the fourth quarter. What killed the Rams was their mistakes.

The list:

--One blocked punt that resulted in seven points.

--Two interceptions returned for touchdowns.

--One botched snap that resulted in a safety.

--One fumbled kickoff return that resulted in seven points.

--One blocked field-goal try.

--One blocked conversion kick.

--One interception that ended a potential scoring driving in the waning minutes of the first half.

--One botched attempt to call a timeout. Utah scored on the play.

It got so bad for Colorado State that George Schramm, a reserve defensive end who plays on special teams, lined up on Utah's side of the ball for a Ram kickoff.

"It seemed like everything that could go wrong did go wrong for us," Lubick said.

Utah (7-0) wasn't without its mistakes. The Utes had two punts blocked, blew leads of their own, gave up nearly 500 yards, fumbled three times, threw one interception and were whistled for 14 penalties and 117 yards. But when it counted, Utah delivered the kind of plays that used to make the trick-play-happy WAC proud.

With his team trailing, 17-16, with less than five minutes left in the third quarter, Utah's Charlie Brown ran 44 yards for a touchdown. Rather than kick the extra point, offensive coordinator Rick Rasnick called for a two-point conversion and used a special formation named "Anaheim," which was designed for last year's Freedom Bowl. Utah hadn't used the formation this season.

Colorado State, which later insisted that it practiced against the formation, didn't have a clue. The Utes stepped to the line of scrimmage and then moved four players to the far left side, four to the middle and two in between. McCoy took the shotgun snap and hit Rob Hamilton for the conversion, giving Utah a 24-17 lead.

"They were awfully confused," McCoy said.

On the next possession, this time with the ball on the Colorado State five-yard line, the Utes did the same thing. The Rams' Jackson saw the shift coming and immediately tried signaling for a timeout.

Too late. McCoy found tight end Rick Tucker for the easy score as two blockers on the left side wiped out Jackson.

"I'm just looking at those big boys out there and they're coming right at me," said Jackson, 5 feet 10 and 190 pounds. "Wow, what a play. But I don't know what happened with the timeout. The ref was sitting right there and I was right in his face. I guess he was sitting in the twilight zone."

Colorado State knows the feeling. The Rams tied the score with more than 10 minutes left, but then gave up another touchdown and were reduced to a desperation drive in the final minute.

It almost worked. Starting at their 24, the Rams moved to the Utah 10. Forty-four seconds remained. Fourth and eight. Quarterback Anthoney Hill, who had thrown into double and triple coverage all day, tried to needle the ball to wide receiver Matt Phillips in the end zone.

Instead, free safety Harold Lusk stepped in front of Phillips and didn't stop running until 100 yards later. So much for the Colorado State comeback.

"I've never done that before," Lusk said. "All I can say is, thank God I did."

Lusk said what he really wanted was a shutout. "But, you know, you can't get everything."

Greedy guy. In this case, a wonderful WAC kind of victory will have to do.

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