By HEATHER KENNEDY
SALT LAKE CITY -- In front of 45,273 fans for the 2012 season opener, the Northern Colorado football team stayed with the University of Utah for the first quarter, but eventually lost 41-0 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"You can shut them out for a quarter," Northern Colorado Football Coach Earnest Collins Jr.said, "but you have to sustain it for four quarters. That's what it's all about -- football is about four quarters. If it was about one quarter, we'd be great, but you have to do the same for three more quarters. Playing up a level, you usually can hang with them for a while but their depth outweighs your depth."
The Bears now turn their attention to Colorado Mesa for the home opener on Saturday, Sept. 8. The game will be a rematch of the first-ever game at Nottingham Field.
Tickets are still available and can be purchased online at www.unco.edu/tickets or by calling 970.351.4849.
"Our team is fine," Collins said. "They're a little down we didn't win the game and we didn't score any points, but it's one game. If we would have won, it still would have been one game. We'll regroup and get back to practice on Sunday. We'll watch some film tomorrow and get ready to go."
Utah showed throughout the game why its defense has been ranked among the best in the nation during the preseason, holding Northern Colorado to just 114 yards of total offense.
"The thing that was great for me was our kids played extremely hard and they kept battling, they kept fighting on offense and defense," Collins said. "We couldn't get it going in the return game, but I was proud of our kids."
Both senior wide receiver Dominic Gunn (Aurora, Colo.) and junior Jace Davis (Lone Tree, Colo.) caught three passes in the game. Davis gained 21 yards, including a 10-yard reception along the sideline for a first down, while Gunn had 11 receiving yards to go along with 58 kickoff return yards.
Junior transfer Tromaine Dennis (Jersey City, N.J.) led the rushing game with eight carries for 27 yards, while junior Quentin Hildreth (Aurora, Colo.) had eight carries for 20 yards. The longest carry of the evening came on a lateral from junior quarterback Seth Lobato (Eaton, Colo.) to junior wide receiver Will Jefferson Jr. (Moreno Valley, Calif.), for 14 yards.
Lobato completed 10-of-24 passes for 74 yards and was sacked twice, while senior Matt Baca (Chino Hills, Calif.) was 1-for-2 with one interception and his completion was a five-yard gain.
"We didn't execute how we needed to execute to be successful," Lobato said. "We have to keep our defense off the field, sustain drives and keep the chains moving. That's going to help our defense out a lot. As you see, in the first quarter it shows a 0-0 tie because our defense played a great quarter, it's just we don't have the depth we need."
Defensively, junior linebacker Clarence Bumpas (Colorado Springs) recorded double figures in tackles for the tenth-straight game with 10 stops. Senior transfer Hervè Tonye-Tonye (Montreal, Quebec) notched nine tackles on the evening, while senior corner Marcel Gibbons (Colorado Springs) and sophomore defensive tackle Lexington Smith (Denver) each had eight.
On the Utes opening drive, sophomore corner Courtney Hall (Pompano Beach, Fla.) intercepted the first pass of his career to stall what had been a 53-yard drive.
Utah broke onto the scoreboard first with a 10-yard pass from Jordan Wynn to Jake Murphy. The drive stretched between the first and second quarter, going 74 yards in 12 plays.
Sophomore defensive tackle Devontae Chapple (Denver) batted down a pass forcing Utah to punt for the second time, but punter Sean Sellwood booted one 60 yards and pinned the Bears on the three-yard line. The Bears went three-and-out on the ensuing drive and a short punt set up a three-yard rushing touchdown by quarterback Travis Wilson. The extra point extended Utah's lead to 14-0 with 2:17 remaining in the half.
With 34 seconds remaining in the half, the Utes got into the endzone again, this time on a five-yard rush by John White. Utah drove 52 yards in under a minute (57 seconds) on six plays to set up the score.
On a punt with 17 seconds left, senior Mason Puckett (Mililani, Hawai'i) took a low snap and put his knee on the ground, giving Utah possession on the 15-yard line. The Utes called timeout with one-second left and the 27-yard field goal attempt bounced off the left upright to keep the score at 21-0 at half.
Wilson rushed into the endzone for the second time on the evening, doing so on the opening drive of the half for Utah to make the score 28-0 with 10:51 to play in the third quarter.
Senior tight end Doug Steele (Tucson, Ariz.) made an unbelievable catch on third-down for a gain of 24 yards. Lobato thread the pass through two defenders and Steele bobbled the ball off one arm before tucking it in for the team's second third-down conversion of the game.
Utah used a 21-play, 91 yard drive in the fourth quarter, but the PAT went wide for the 34-0 score. The 21 plays is the longest drive by number of plays in Rice-Eccles Stadium history (since 1998). The touchdown was Murphy's second of the night from Wynn and went for eight yards.
Baca's first pass was intercepted by Joe Kruger and returned 23 yards for a touchdown to extend the Utes lead to 41-0 with 10:42 left in the contest.
"Up front they're really strong," Lexington Smith said. "I feel like our d-line did a good job of staying in our gaps and maintaining. We've definitely got to get our conditioning up, because it's just a matter of getting worn down over the course of the game. In the first quarter, I felt like we were evenly matched, even with their size and even with their strength. We were still playing with those boys and if we get our conditioning up, there's no stopping us."
Photo by: Nathan Sweet