BOULDER, Colorado — Another narrow loss put a wrap on Colorado's first winless conference season in 99 years.
Yet, after Saturday's 38-34 loss to Utah, both players and Coach Mike MacIntyre said the very manner of the losses point to better days ahead for Colorado's beleaguered program.
For the record, Dominique Hatfield returned a fourth-quarter interception 20 yards for a touchdown and Utah benefited from a pair of key replay reversals to send the Buffaloes to their season-ending eighth consecutive loss.
"I don't know how we didn't win these close games," said defensive back Terrel Smith, whose apparent interception was among the critical replay reversals that hurt Colorado. "We had to keep fighting and this definitely builds character as a team. I feel like the younger guys will know how to win next year. We're going to get it all together and make it right for years to come."
Travis Wilson threw for 311 yards and three touchdowns, helping Utah (8-4, 5-4 Pac-12) finish with a winning conference record and rebound from last week's rout by Arizona. Devontae Booker had 25 carries for 95 yards, including a touchdown and a key 11-yard gain in the late going to help run out the clock.
Sefo Liufau completed 20-of-31 passes for 317 yards and a touchdown but the game turned on his late interception. Colorado (2-10, 0-9) finished winless in league play for the first time since 1915 when the Buffaloes finished 0-5 in the Rocky Mountain Conference.
Four of Colorado's conference losses were by a combined 15 points, including two in double overtime.
"I think the word I'd use is 'gut-wrenching,'" MacIntyre said after the Buffaloes' season ended in their latest narrow loss. "They're learning how to keep competing; now we're learning how to finish as a whole group. We'll find a way to do it but I do feel that we played hard and did a lot of good things."
Placekicker Will Oliver: "We were always one or two plays away and that's just the way it bounced this year," Oliver said. "(But) these kids see how close they are, and when the light at the end of the tunnel gets close, they'll reach for it."
Trailing by eight, Utah pulled to 24-22 early in the third quarter on Booker's 1-yard touchdown run, capping a sequence in which replay review led to three reversals, including the scoring play.
After the replay official overturned a third-down interception, ruling Smith lost possession an instant before being taken down, Tom Hackett kept Utah's drive alive with a 24-yard gain to midfield on a fake punt.
Wilson then hit Westlee Tonga with successive completions, the second an apparent 8-yarder for the score. But on review, it was determined he was down at the 1, setting up Booker's TD run, which initially was ruled inches short before review found he broke the plane of the goal line.
After Utah forced Colorado to settle for a field goal, Wilson threw his third touchdown pass of the day, a 28-yarder to Tonga, and the Utes moved in front 28-27 after their two-point try failed.
Colorado regained the lead when Liufau connected on a 66-yard scoring pass to Nelson Spruce, who made his 12th touchdown catch of the year, a single season school record.
Andy Phillips kicked his second field goal, a 35-yarder and Utah pulled to 34-31 heading into the fourth quarter.
Then, a mistake by Colorado vaulted the Utes into the lead.
With defensive end Nate Orchard charging headlong into the backpedaling Liufau, Colorado's quarterback lofted a screen pass to the flat toward Christian Powell but Hatfield slipped through the wall of blockers to make the interception on the run. He sprinted in to the end zone untouched for the score, putting the Utes up by four with 10 minutes left to play.
Liufau said the pass simply got away from him.
"I couldn't burn it at his feet because there were three or four guys in front of him and I led him too far outside," Liufau said. "It obviously cost us the game."
Utah's defense forced Colorado to punt with 3:43 left to play and Utah's offense got two first downs to prevent the Buffaloes from getting their hands on the ball again.
Will Oliver kicked a 29-yard field goal in the final seconds of the first half, giving Colorado a 24-16 lead and capping a frenetic second quarter in which the teams combined for 30 points.
Playing catch-up from the start, Utah went in front 16-14 on Kaelin Clay's second touchdown catch, a 2-yarder with 10:14 left in the second quarter. Phillips, however, missed the extra point.
Colorado responded with Powell's third scoring run of the day. He broke through the line, bolted outside and into the clear on a 33-yard touchdown run.
Liufau completed a 28-yard pass to Tyler McCulloch to set up Powell's first TD run from 2-yards out. After Clay caught a 34-yard scoring pass from Wilson, Liufau hooked up with Shay Fields on a 52-yard completion, setting up Powell's first TD run of the day from 1-yard away.
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