SALT LAKE CITY — The BCS Busters II are still alive.
Brian Johnson led No. 10 Utah to a thrilling comeback, marching the Utes 80 yards in the final minutes and completing a 9-yard touchdown pass to Freddie Brown with 47 seconds left in a 13-10 victory over No. 11 TCU on Thursday night.
The Utes remained unbeaten and in contention for a Bowl Championship Series berth despite getting outgained 416 yards to 275. Utah is 10-0 for just the second time in school history, matching the start of the original BCS Busters in 2004.
“We knew it was there for us,” said Johnson, who was 7-of-9 for all 80 yards on the winning drive.
It was the second time this season Johnson has saved the Utes (10-0, 6-0 Mountain West) in the final minutes. He led Utah to an 11-point rally in the final 90 seconds of a 31-28 win over Oregon State on Oct. 2.
“I told the guys, ‘Stay in it. We’re going to have a chance to win it late,’ ” Johnson said.
The 45,666 fans were the second-largest crowd to see a game at Rice-Eccles Stadium, which was shaking as thousands jumped up and down when Johnson found Brown on a slant pattern for Utah’s only touchdown of the game.
Robert Johnson intercepted a pass from Andy Dalton to seal it with five seconds to go and after Johnson took a knee, the Utes were swarmed as the fans rushed the field.
“This was just magical,” said defensive end Paul Kruger, who had one of two third-down sacks that knocked the Horned Frogs (9-2, 6-1) out of field-goal range.
TCU missed two field goal attempts in the fourth quarter, either of which would have put the Frogs up by seven.
Ross Evans bounced one kick off the left upright, then with 2:48 left he was wide right on a 35-yard attempt. Utah got the ball back on the 20 and Johnson led the Utes from there.
“We missed two field goals. It was just one of those things,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said.
TCU gave Utah 15 yards with a pass interference penalty, but still nearly had the drive stopped as Utah faced a fourth-and-5. Johnson converted it with an 11-yard pass to Brown to the Frogs’ 15, then two plays later, Johnson found Brown again for the winning score.
Brown had nine catches for 105 yards.
“It’s like he has no pulse. He just stays calm in those situations,” Johnson said of Brown.
Aaron Brown ran for 106 yards on 15 carries and Dalton passed for 251 yards, but the Frogs hurt themselves with penalties and untimely breakdowns. TCU was called for 11 penalties, missed the two field goals and allowed four sacks — two of which cost them possible points.
In the third quarter, Dalton threw a pass to Walter Bryant inside the Utah 5-yard line, but Bryant was ruled out of bounds and the Frogs did not challenge the call. Kruger sacked Dalton on the next play to knock the Frogs out of field-goal range.
“We got together and we said we need to do something special if we want to come out with a victory,” Kruger said. “This is an incredible win.”
It was a stunning loss considering the way TCU started the game, gaining 202 yards in the first quarter.
Utah fans wore black to match the uniforms the Utes broke out for the showcase game. The fans were loud and rowdy and didn’t faze the Frogs one bit in the first quarter as TCU scored the first 10 points.
Evans kicked a 37-yard field goal and Ryan Christian scored on a 3-yard run for TCU.
“I thought the momentum was in our favor and our kids were moving the football,” Patterson said.
But the second quarter belonged to the Utes, who held TCU to 6 yards of offense in the period. The Frogs self-destructed with five penalties in the quarter, including three false starts during one possession. Utah sacked Dalton twice in the quarter and Sean Smith returned an interception 37 yards to set up Louie Sakoda’s 37-yard field goal at the end of the half that made it 10-6.
“No one panicked. we just hung in there,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “Nothing came easy but the guys toughed it out and they came up with big plays each time we needed them.”