|San Diego, CA–
The Utah Utes are taking this bowl business seriously. Brian Johnson threw for one touchdown and ran for another, and Utah opened the bowl season with a wild 35-32 victory over the Navy Midshipmen in the Poinsettia Bowl on Thursday night.
It was Utah’s seventh straight bowl victory dating to 1999. The loss spoiled the head-coaching debut of Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo, who was promoted from assistant head coach and offensive line coach after Paul Johnson left for Georgia Tech.
Running back Darrell Mack, who grew up in the San Diego area, scored the first and last touchdowns for Utah (9-4), which won for the eighth time in nine games.
The Poinsettia Bowl is run by the same group that puts on the Holiday Bowl, so it was fitting that the teams combined for 50 points in the second half.
The game came down to a crazy final minute. Navy pulled to 35-32 on Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada’s 58-yard touchdown pass to Zerbin Singleton with 57 seconds left.
Singleton recovered the onside kick at the 42, but Kaheaku-Enhada was intercepted by safety Joe Dale on the second play of the drive to seal the victory. Dale had team-high 12 tackles. Navy (8-5) had its four-game winning streak snapped.
Johnson expertly ran Utah’s spread-option offense in leading Utes back from a 17-7 deficit by going 9-for-9 for 130 yards in the third quarter.
After Jerome Brooks scored on a 23-yard end-around pitch to pull the Utes within three, they went ahead on Johnson’s 40-yard pass to Derrek Richards with 1:12 left in the third quarter.
Utah Quarterback Brian JohnsonHolds the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl MVP Trophy
Johnson scored on a 19-yard scramble early in the fourth quarter to give Utah a 28-17 lead.
Navy, which seemed to be wearing down against the larger Utes, got a 10-yard touchdown pass from Kaheaku-Enhada to Shun White, and a conversion run by Kaheaku-Enhada to pull to 28-25 with 8:48 left.
Mack’s 1-yard TD run with 1:27 left seemed to give Utah a safe lead before Kaheaku-Enhada’s big pass play.
Johnson was 20-of-25 passing for 236 yards, with one interception. He ran 11 times for 69 yards. After three turnovers in the first 7:20, the teams settled down.
Mack scored on a 5-yard run midway through the first quarter for a 7-0 Utah lead. Navy then got its triple-option offense moving to score 17 straight points.
Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada scored on a 1-yard run, Joey Bullen kicked a 39-yard field goal and Eric Kettani broke a 46-yard scoring run. Kettani carried 12 times for 125 yards.