Utah defeats California, 37-27, in Poinsettia Bowl

Freshman Jordan Wynn threw three first-half touchdown passes as Utah overcame an early 14-point deficit to defeat California, 37-27, in Wednesday’s Poinsettia Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium.

Wynn, a graduate of Oceanside High School, completed 26 of 36 passes for a career-high 338 yards and received the game’s offensive most valuable player award for helping lead the Utes to their ninth consecutive bowl victory, the longest current streak and equaling the second longest.

Golden Bears (8-5) had taken a 14-0 lead nine minutes, five seconds into the game on Shane Vereen’s 36-yard run and Eddie Young’s 31-yard return of a Wynn pass he intercepted.

Shaky Smithson returned the ensuing kickoff 61 yards to California’s 30-yard line. Seven plays later, Wynn threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Kendrick Moeai.

Utah (10-3) scored on all three of its second-quarter possessions, getting a 28-yard field goal from Joe Phillips and 15- and 21-yard touchdown passes from Wynn to Moeai and Jereme Brooks for a 24-14 halftime lead.

The Utes increased their lead to 27-14 on Phillips’ 29-yard field goal with 3:13 left in the third quarter, four plays after Mike Wright recovered a fumble by Golden Bears quarterback Kevin Riley on California’s 14-yard line.

The Golden Bears ended Utah’s streak of 27 unanswered points on the following series as Vereen (122 yards on 20 carries) capped a six-play, 77-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run with 39 seconds left in the third quarter.

Vereen ran for 21 yards on the drive’s first play and caught an 11-yard pass from Riley on the play before the touchdown.

Riley completed his other two passes on the drive, connecting with Anthony Miller for a 30-yard gain and Vereen Tucker for a 19-yard gain, one play after being sacked for a five-yard loss.

Phillips kicked a 25-yard field goal 1:45 into the fourth quarter. Linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, the defensive most valuable player award recipient, intercepted a Riley pass and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown with 5:27 to play.

Riley (20 of 36 for 214 yards with two passes intercepted) threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Ross with 1:46 left.

Florida State has the longest bowl winning streak, with 11 victories from 1985-96. Utah matched USC’s nine consecutive bowl victories from 1923-45 for the second longest streak.

The announced attendance of 32,665 was the second-lowest of the five Poinsettia Bowls, ahead only of the 2006 game between Northern Illinois and Texas Christian, which drew 29,709.

Organizers had expected a crowd of between 30,000-35,000, a figure they were happy with even though, it would only leave the approximately-66,000-seat Qualcomm Stadium about half-filled.

“When we started this game we said, ‘If we can draw 30,000 a year every year, we’re going to be pleased,’” Bruce Binkowski, the game’s executive director, told City News Service before the game. “We’ve already surpassed that number.”

“Our plan was to operate a good bowl game and not lose money doing it. We have operated an excellent bowl game and we have not lost money doing it.

“We haven’t made a tremendous amount of money, but we wanted to make sure we were profitable and put money into the reserves to make us operate comfortably year after year.”

Next year’s Poinsettia Bowl will match Navy, if it gets the necessary six regular-season victories to be bowl eligible, and a Mountain West Conference team.

The two highest attended Poinsettia Bowls have both involved Navy — the inaugural game in 2005, which drew 36,842, and the 2007 game, which drew 39,129, when Navy sold all 16,000 tickets it was allocated, thanks in part to the response from San Diego’s Navy community.