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Cardinal Falls to No. 25 Utah
Courtesy: Mark Soltau
STANFORD, Calif. – No. 25 Utah escaped with a 20-17 double-overtime victory over Stanford at Stanford Stadium on Saturday.

In a defensive struggle that saw the teams combine for 17 punts and finish regulation tied at 7-7, the 25th-ranked Utes (7-3 overall, 4-3 Pac-12 Conference) delivered the knockout blow in the second overtime when 6-foot-7 junior quarterback Travis Wilson drilled a 3-yard touchdown pass to a diving Kenneth Scott for the winning score. This, after the Cardinal had taken a 17-14 lead on a career-long 52-yard field goal by fifth-year senior Jordan Williamson.

It spoiled Senior Night for Stanford (5-5, 3-4), and also marked the first back-to-back losses for David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, a streak career dating back to 2009.

“Very disappointed in our overall performance,” said Shaw. “The defense played really hard and kept us in the game. But gosh, we gave them way too much and too many opportunities.”

The Utes had the ball first in the initial overtime and struck quickly, as Wilson hit wide receiver Kaelin Clay for a 25-yard touchdown pass on the first play. But the Cardinal answered, senior quarterback Kevin Hogan lofting a 14-yard scoring pass to sophomore tight end Austin Hooper to even the score at 14-14.

It was the first scoring for either team since the second quarter. Utah punter Tom Hackett played a huge role for the Utes, downing six punts inside the Stanford 10, resulting in poor field position. He averaged 44.7 yards on nine attempts.

Counterpart Ben Rhyne, a fifth-year senior, also had a strong performance, averaging 40.2 yards on eight punts and had two downed inside the 20.

Utah’s touchdown in regulation came after a Stanford fumble, while the Utes did not commit a turnover. In a season-long pattern, the Cardinal has turned the ball over 13 times in Pac-12 Conference play while forcing only two turnovers.

“Sometimes it’s lucky, sometimes you’ve got to make your own luck,” said Shaw. “The ball hasn’t bounced our way.”

Stanford got its running game untracked, rushing for a 190 yards on 38 carries. In his most extensive action of the season, freshman Christian McCaffrey ran for a game-high 77 yards on eight carries and also caught three passes.

“I’m ready for any situation, whether it’s 12 touches a game or two touches a game,” McCaffrey said.

But the running game did not lead to points, as the Cardinal failed to record a rushing touchdown for the first time in 31 games, tied for the second-longest streak in the nation. The Cardinal finished with a nearly five-minute time of possession advantage.

As for the passing game, Hogan completed 17 of 27 passes for a season-low 104 yards and was sacked four times. In his defense, the Cardinal had several drops and seldom helped him out. Junior wide receiver Michael Rector could not hang on to a deep sideline pass in the final 30 seconds of regulation that would have set up Stanford for a good field goal chance near the Utah 15, although Ute defender Eric Rowe applied tight coverage.

Stanford also pressed into Utah territory on its previous possession and faced fourth and 7 at the 34 with 2:04 remaining. However, Shaw elected to punt and Rhyne pinned the Utes at their own 7.

The Cardinal converted only 3 of 13 times on third down.

Fifth-year senior defensive end Henry Anderson had a monster game for Stanford, collecting three of the team’s five sacks and also made 5.5 tackles for loss, both career highs. Senior outside linebacker James Vaughters also had a big game, posting two sacks and two tackles for loss.

“So many guys played hard and well in their last home game,” Shaw said. “Henry being at the top of that. Just relentless, high-effort, energy.”

Stanford looked sharp on the game’s opening possession. Using a no-huddle offense, Hogan marched the offense 70 yards in seven plays, culminated by a 3-yard touchdown pass to fifth-year senior fullback Lee Ward, the first scoring reception of his career.

The key play on was a 37-yard run by McCaffrey on 4th and inches from the Utah 47. Hogan faked a handoff off the right side, then pitched left to the speedy McCaffrey, who caught the Utes off guard and was finally forced out of bounds at the Utah 10.

The Cardinal looked to extend its 7-0 lead early in the second quarter, but squandered a good scoring chance. On second and eight from the Utah 36, Hogan threw to Hooper, who made a nifty one-handed catch over the middle. As he fought for extra yardage, Utah defensive end Nate Orchard ripped the ball out and teammate Eric Rowe recovered the fumble at the 34.

The Utes capitalized on the turnover. Wilson converted a key third and four situation by connecting with wide receiver Kenneth Scott for a 32-yard completion that carried to the Cardinal 28. From there, the Utes moved to the Stanford 2, where Wilson capped the drive with a 2-yard run off right guard to tie the score at 7-7 with 3:56 remaining in the half.

While Shaw was clearly disappointed about Saturday’s outcome, Stanford has two games remaining — at Cal next Saturday and at UCLA on Nov. 28 — and must win one to clinch a postseason bowl bid.

“That’s probably the most maddening thing,” he said. “Practices are great. We’ve got great leadership on this team. The guys bust their tails and give everything they have and work extremely hard. I couldn’t ask for anything better. It’s just a lack of execution.”

And he felt especially bad for the seniors.

“This senior class has accomplished so much,” said Shaw. “And there will be many people who want to make this a downer at the end of their career.

“These guys … These last four, five years have been as good if not better than anybody that’s played Stanford football. We battled for the most wins in our conference over the last four or five years. And these guys deserve a pat on the back. And I know they’re not going to get that this week because of all the slings and arrows.

“That’s fine. Have the slings and arrows come towards me, not toward these young men. These young men fight and they’re high character young men. We’re going to come back and fight again next week.”

About Tony Rotundo