SEATTLE — Twice the Washington sideline erupted to celebrate a touchdown, only to see a yellow flag dampen the celebration.
The Huskies could not afford having two touchdowns called back against No. 13 Utah on top of committing four turnovers.
"It is crushing," Washington coach Chris Petersen said. "That was huge. Having two touchdowns called back and then giving them a touchdown on offense, those are really hard to overcome especially when you are playing someone that is really pretty good."
Gionni Paul returned a fumble 54 yards for a touchdown, set up another score with an interception and the Utes held off Washington's second-half rally for a 34-23 win on Saturday night to remain in control of the Pac-12 South Division race.
Utah (8-1, 5-1, No. 12 CFP) leaned on big plays from its defense to overcome an inconsistent night offensively against the Huskies (4-5, 2-4). After going two weeks without forcing a turnover, the Utes forced three in the first half and made that stand up despite Washington trimming the deficit to 24-23 early in the fourth quarter.
Washington now needs two wins in its final three games to reach bowl eligibility and keep Petersen's streak alive of taking every team he's ever coached to the postseason.
"They are working their tail off. We are making some progress," Petersen said. "Playing a team of this quality, we couldn't come in and play sloppy."
The sloppiness for Washington wasn't isolated. There were dropped passes, a dropped punt snap, missed tackles and penalties in critical moments. The Huskies committed four turnovers, their most since having five turnovers in their loss to California.
Despite all those mistakes, Utah was unable to put away Washington, committing two second-half turnovers that allowed the Huskies to rally and pull within 24-23 on Cameron Van Winkle's 49-yard field goal with 13:11 remaining. The field goal came after Washington had its second touchdown of the game called back due to penalty.
Jaydon Mickens had a TD catch erased in the first quarter due to offensive pass interference on Brayden Lenius, and Myles Gaskin had a 23-yard score early in the fourth quarter called back on a holding penalty.
"We've got to be good enough to overcome those and not even give the refs an opportunity to call anything," Washington quarterback Jake Browning said. "It's not like the refs lost us the game or anything like that. We lost the game because we turned the ball over too much and made some mistakes. We've got to learn from that and get better."
Browning was 23 of 39 for 257 yard and a 1-yard touchdown to tight end Drew Sample in the second quarter. Gaskin finished with 93 yards rushing and a score, but there was no final rally from the Huskies after Browning was sacked from behind by Kylie Fitts and fumbled with 2:52 left. Stevie Tu'ikolovatu recovered the fumble setting off the celebration on the Utah sideline.
"We were putting our defense in tough situations," Browning said. "I thought they battled hard for some situations that we put them in."
After being unable to force a turnover against either USC or Oregon State, the Utes got three in the first half and were gifted field position another time when Washington punter Korey Durkee dropped a snap in Huskies territory. After Utah took a 7-3 lead on Wilson's 4-yard TD run, Paul jumped Browning pass attempt two play into Washington's next possession and returned the interception to the Washington 8. Booker scored two plays later for a 14-3 lead and two Utah touchdowns in 90 seconds.
Later in the second quarter Browning hit Dwayne Washington in the flat, but the ball was jarred free by Jared Norris, scooped up by Paul and returned for a 54-yard touchdown and a 21-6 Utes lead
"Going in we knew we were going to be facing a good defense. We wanted to prove which defense was better," Paul said.
Travis Wilson ran for two touchdowns and provided the capper with a 3-yard scoring run with 3:27 left after the Utes had gone scoreless in the second half. Devontae Booker rushed for 150 yards and went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
"It's definitely a huge win for the program and we're sitting right where we want to be," Wilson said.
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