No. 17 Arizona starts fast, defeats No. 22 Utah

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No. 17 Arizona raced to an early 28-0 lead, including scoring on a blocked punt return, and the Wildcats won their fifth consecutive game by beating No. 22 Utah 42-18 on Saturday in Tucson, Ariz.

Arizona (8-3, 6-2 Pac-12) kept alive hopes of reaching the conference championship game by defeating its fourth ranked team during its winning streak, which is the school’s longest since starting the 2014 season with five consecutive wins.

Noah Fifita passed for 253 yards and two touchdowns for the Wildcats, who led Utah (7-4, 4-4) by four touchdowns one play into the second quarter. But the Utes, playing without three key defenders, battled to within 28-10 before Arizona’s Treydan Stukes intercepted a pass from Bryson Barnes with 11:22 left.

Arizona responded with a 61-yard drive, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Jonah Coleman, to make it 35-10 with 7:57 left in regulation to help seal the outcome.

Utah did add a touchdown and two-point conversion in the final minute. Arizona decided it wasn’t done yet, as backup Jayden de Laura threw deep and completed a 51-yard touchdown pass to Tetairoa McMillan with 32 seconds remaining.

Fifita completed 22 of 30 passes with no interceptions. Coleman ran for 90 yards on 14 carries.

Barnes was 31 of 53 for 320 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Three of Utah’s top five tacklers did not play due to injury — linebacker Karene Reid (54 tackles), safety Cole Bishop (53) and defensive end Jonah Elliss (37 tackles, 16 for loss, 12 sacks).

The Wildcats secured their first eight-win season since going 10-4 in 2014.

Arizona struck on the opening possession on a trick play. McMillan took a lateral to the left and threw a long pass to the back right corner of the end zone for a 21-yard score to wide-open Michael Wiley.

After the Wildcats forced a three-and-out, Anthony Ward blocked a punt and returned it 2 yards to the end zone to put Arizona up 14-0.

Fifita completed touchdown passes of 32 yards to Montana Lemonious-Craig in the first quarter and 31 yards to Wiley on the first play of the second quarter to give Arizona a 28-0 lead.

The score remained the same through a rainy second quarter until Utah broke through with a 92-yard drive, capped by Barnes’ 20-yard TD pass to Devaughn Vele with 52 seconds to go before halftime.