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No. 19 Arizona uses fast start to beat No. 16 Utah 42-18

Arizona running back Michael Wiley (6) scores a touchdown against Utah during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Arizona running back Michael Wiley (6) scores a touchdown against Utah during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

BY JOHN MARSHAL contributing

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Fans streamed across the dual Pac-12 logos to join the players in celebrating Arizona’s latest win over a ranked opponent.

Headed the Big 12 next season, the Wildcats had quite a sendoff in the final Pac-12 game at Arizona Stadium.

Noah Fifita threw for two touchdowns and No. 19 Arizona used a fast start beat No. 16 Utah 42-18 on Saturday for its first five-game winning streak in nine years.

“From training camp, I felt like we had a good team,” Arizona coach Jedd Fisch said. “And you could just kind of get a sense that when you think you’re a good team and feel like you’re a good team, you can see it and our guys. They play confidently. They believe in one another. They believe in what the mission is.”

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They certainly did early against Utah.

The Wildcats (8-3, 6-2 Pac-12, No. 17 CFP) manhandled the two-time reigning Pac-12 champions from the opening drive, building a 28-0 lead by the first play of the second quarter.

Utah (7-4, 4-4) tightened up after that despite playing without three of its best defensive players, but Arizona’s defense was just as good in the Pac-12 finale at Arizona Stadium.

“We came out hot and didn’t let our foot off the gas,” Arizona safety Dalton Johnson said.

The Wildcats intercepted passes by Bryson Barnes twice in their own end and forced a turnover on downs near midfield to beat four AP Top 25 teams in a season for the first time since 1989. Arizona has won five straight Pac-12 games for the first time since 1998.

Fifita threw for 253 yards on 22-od-30 passing against a Utah defense missing rover Karene Reid, safety Cole Bishop and defensive end Jonah Elliss.

“I told our players it’s really tough to win a football game when you go down 28 zip,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “That’s a lot to overcome. That all happened in a blink of an eye it seemed.”

Still in the mix for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game, the Wildcats charged out of the gate like they still had something to play for.

The Utes, out of the running for a third straight Pac-12 title, did not.

Arizona revved up an already-charged crowd by scoring on its opening drive with a trick play. Receiver Tetairoa McMillan caught a backward pass from Fifta and threw to a wide-open Michael Wiley for a 21-yard touchdown.

Anthony Ward then juked a blocker, smothered Jack Bouwmeester’s punt and returned it two yards for another score. Montana Lemonious-Craig’s 32-yard touchdown on a sideline pass made it 21-0 in game’s first 11 minutes.

The Wildcats weren’t done. Wiley turned another sideline pass into a 31-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter.

“We just came out flat. We seemed slow,” Utah receiver Devaughn Vele said. “We weren’t getting off the ball quick enough, we weren’t sustaining blocks, we weren’t making big plays.”

Jacob Manu spoiled Utah’s first sustained drive with an interception at Arizona’s 10, but Barnes regrouped and found Vele on a 20-yard touchdown pass to pull the Utes within 28-7 at halftime.

Neither offense could gain much traction until Noah Coleman bounced outside for a 1-yard touchdown that put Arizona up 35-10 in the fourth quarter.

LATE SCORE

Leading 35-18 in the final minute, the Wildcats decided to run a play when they could have taken two knees to run out the clock.

It turned into a 51-yard touchdown pass from Jayden de Laura to McMillan, which Whittingham had no problem with.

“That’s the play they want to run, we’ve got to defend it,” he said. “It’s plain and simple.”

TAKEAWAY

Utah: The Utes came out flat and it cost them. The defense was better after falling into the big early hole, but Utah’s offense sputtered for much of the afternoon for its third loss in four games.

Arizona: The Wildcats’ stellar start provided the cushion they needed when the offense stagnated in the second half. Arizona will likely move up in next week’s AP Top 25 after reaching eight wins for the first time since going 10-4 in 2014.

UP NEXT

Utah: Hosts Colorado next Saturday.

Arizona: plays at rival Arizona State next Saturday.