Rice-Eccles Stadium is probably the last place on Earth that senior wide receiver Kaelin Clay ever wants to play another football game. Even if Utes administrators are trying to appeal to the NCAA for a fifth year of eligibility, you can’t be sure Clay one–not after yesterday.
As Clay juked Arizona Wildcats defenders out of their Under Armours on Sat. Nov. 22 en route to speeding towards an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown, a familiar foe decked out in zebra stripes was about to raise his ugly head above the cheering fray. The referee.
As a yellow rag tumbled onto the soggy turf in a game that No. 17 Utah was fighting to gain control of amid freezing sheets of rain, you had to wonder if Clay thought life was out to get him.
After all, Clay’s teammate Boobie Hobbs just committed holding on the play on his frigging electrifying 87-yard punt return, nullifying Clay’s TD. As Clay stood in the end zone to receive well-wishes from his teammates, he knew he’d done nothing wrong. All he did was stand in the doggone end zone to celebrate his TD, you know, the one that didn’t count.
Instead, Clay’s touchdown was called back and for the second straight game at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Clay became the answer to a trivia question. That is, what Utah Utes football player was pivotal in the 2014-15 season in changing the team’s fortunes? The answer, well, you already know the answer. And so to answer your question, The Utes went on to lose this one 42-10 too, to tumble out of the Pac-12 South division race and fall out of the Top 25 national rankings as well.
Had Clay’s touchdown stood, wee-eell, then the score would have been Arizona 21, Utah 17. Different game then, right?
Of course everyone still remembers what happened when Clay was a part of another big play that didn’t go his way–his drop on the 1-yard line before he strutted into the end zone. That was against the Oregon Ducks, who ran Clay’s fumble back for a touchdown en route to their blowout victory. The play has been immortalized by Taiwanese animators. It went viral.
You probably also thought Clay had already exorcised those demons after he made the big catch last week at Stanford. But, the key word in that last sentence was “at,” meaning that Clay didn’t make that big play “at” Rice-Eccles Stadium. Oh no, he still had a score to settle back at home, in Salt Lake City.
Clay didn’t cleanse his soul on Saturday. In fact, it appears he infected his teammate Hobbs with the dreaded disease. And so now the Utes–who were in the hunt for the College Football Playoff before Clay’s not-so-big plays–are sitting at 7-4 and looking at Las Vegas or El Paso as a postseason destination, instead of Pasadena or even the Big Easy.
Life isn’t fair sometimes and it hasn’t been for Clay, who did everything right on the way to his 87-yard punt return–only to have the cold snap of reality take it away from him, and from his Utes, again.