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SALT LAKE CITY -- The competition in this rivalry is second to none, and I mean that, no cliché intended. In the last 14 games between BYU and Utah, 12 games have been decided by less than a touchdown.
Since Kyle Whittingham spurned BYU in favor of taking the Utes’ head coaching job and Bronco Mendenhall took the BYU vacancy six years ago, these two teams have both beat each other three times each. In those six games, the combined score has been 118-118. Try getting closer.
With that, there have been great moments in the rivalry.
Many of these moments would have produced ESPN instant classics and would have been lauded as some of the best games in the history of college football had it been, say, Auburn vs. Alabama or Ohio State vs. Michigan.
Despite the lack of national attention these games and moments have gotten, the fans involved in this rivalry will have these moments seared into their memories forever, for better or for worse. Regardless of which side of the rivalry you are on, you should recognize the uniqueness of these great moments. Just the fact that a list of 10 of these moments can be put together says enough.
Here are the Top 10 moments in the recent history of the rivalry.
10. The Kaneshiro kick. In 1998, the Utes trailed the Cougars 26-17 with 2:41 left in the first rivalry game at the new Rice-Eccles Stadium. Utah’s Daniel Jones returned a kickoff for a 95-yard touchdown to bring the score to 26-24. The Ute defense held BYU to a three-and-out and proceeded to drive down the field. With just seconds left, Utah had the ball on the BYU 15-yard line, setting up a chip-shot, 32-yard field goal for kicker Ryan Kaneshiro. The kick looked good for Utes’ fans until it clanked off the upright and fell to the ground.
9. Back to the BCS. In 2008, the Utes were undefeated and ranked eighth in the country when they welcomed the 16th-ranked Cougars into Salt Lake City. While many remember this game as the blowout that it turned out to be, it was a very close contest until the fourth quarter. The moment that Ute fans will remember from this one was Paul Kruger’s interception of Max Hall to seal the deal. The image that Cougar fans dreaded soon followed as the Ute fans rushed the field after the game to celebrate their second trip to a BCS bowl in four seasons.
8. Fourth-and-18. Most will remember this game from 2007 as the “Magic Happens” game. In an otherwise pretty ugly game, Utah scored the game’s first touchdown late in the fourth quarter to go ahead 10-9. With time running out the Cougars faced a fourth-and-18 on their own 12. On the play, Hall completed a 49-yard pass to Austin Collie to get the first down. Four plays later, BYU scored and went on to win the game 17-10 after a two-point conversion. After the game, Collie was asked about the luck of the play. He responded, “I wouldn't say it was lucky. We executed the play well. We should have had another one. Obviously, when you're doing what's right on and off the field, I think the Lord steps in and plays a part in it. Magic happens.”
The comment added gas to the fire of the religious aspect of the rivalry.
7. First overtime game of the rivalry. In the year 2005 Whittingham and Mendenhall faced off as head coaches for the first time, and the game didn’t disappoint. BYU went into the game heavily favored because Ute quarterback Brian Johnson was out of the game with a season-ending injury. Brett Ratliff, a junior college transfer who had only played three snaps at Utah, would start for the Utes at quarterback. The game was back and forth and Ratliff would go on to throw for 240 yards and four touchdowns while running for 112 yards and a touchdown. He accounted for all five of Utah’s touchdowns that day. However, the most exciting moment came when the Utes held BYU on fourth down in overtime by dropping every defensive player into pass coverage. John Beck’s desperate pass fell incomplete in the end zone and the Utes held on to win the first overtime game in the history of the rivalry.
6. Andrew George. Andrew George is to Utah fans as Bucky Dent is to Red Sox fans. George was an unsung hero for BYU, being overshadowed for most of the season by Dennis Pitta. Then he did the unthinkable. For a minute, Ute fans thought they were going to give BYU a taste of its own medicine after coming back from down two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The game eventually went into overtime where the Utes kicked a field goal on their first possession. BYU looked resigned to do the same until Hall found George over the middle. George slipped between two Utes (who would both go on to the NFL) and waltzed easily into the end zone to win the game for the Cougars.
5. Yergensen makes it a rivalry again. For the first 75 years or so of this rivalry, Utah all but dominated it, but then LaVell Edwards entered the stage. As far as one-name legends go, before Jimmer, there was LaVell. Over the next 20 years, BYU dominated, almost extinguishing the rivalry. Then came Ron McBride, Chris Yergensen and the No. 34.
Going into 1993, BYU had won 13 of the previous 14 games in this series. With less than a minute left in the game the score was tied at 31. Yergensen, the Utes’ embattled place kicker, tried to break the tie in the closing seconds. He had already missed two field goals in the game, but he nailed the 55-yard kick to seal the Utes 34-31 victory. The next year, history would repeat itself when Utah won again, by the same score, 34-31. A year after that, the Utes made it three in a row with a 34-17 win and the rivalry was back.
4. LaVell’s last game. Both teams were finishing ugly seasons in 2000. Edwards, BYU’s legendary head coach, had announced at the beginning of the season that he would retire at the end of it. Utah scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to take a one-point lead on a Matt Nickle 20-yard touchdown reception with 2:16 left in the game. BYU quarterback Brandon Doman miraculously found receiver Jonathan Pittman for 34 yards on fourth down to keep the drive alive. Three plays later, Doman scored the game-winning touchdown with only 13 seconds left on the clock. Edwards was carried off the field on the shoulders of his players while Cougar fans and the remaining Ute fans gave him a standing ovation.
3. The block. In one of the more ugly editions of the rivalry game, the Utes and Cougars collided at the end of the 2010 season going in opposite directions. The Utes had started 8-0 but had lost two of three since then while BYU had started 1-4 but had won five of six since then. BYU led 13-0 going into the fourth quarter, but Utah came back to take a 17-16 lead after an amazing touchdown catch by DeVonte Christopher and a three-yard Matt Asiata touchdown run. Jake Heaps, however, led BYU down the field into Utah territory. With just seconds on the clock, that set BYU up for a 42-yard, Matt Payne field goal attempt. On the attempt, Utah defensive back Brandon Burton got off the right edge of BYU’s offensive line and got a hand on the kick, blocking it and winning the game for the Utes. Ute fans stormed the field in the last game these two teams would play as conference rivals.
2. BCS busters. This game was a blowout that didn’t really include many intense moments passed the second quarter. However, as soon as the clock hit zeroes, the Utes had made history. When Ute fans rushed the field to celebrate their undefeated season, they had changed the whole landscape of college football. This moment didn’t have the nail-biting qualities of the other moments on this list, but it more than makes up for it with its overwhelming significance. This win made Utah the first ever BCS busters as they became the first non-automatic qualifying team to ever play in a BCS bowl game. Since then, six non-AQ teams have played in BCS bowls. That all started in 2004 when the Utes sealed their last regular season victory over BYU, 52-21.
1. Harline is still open. This game quite possibly goes down as the best game in the history of this rivalry. BYU held the early lead, but Utah regained it and held onto it for most of the game. The Utes led the game, 31-27, with 1:19 left in the game after scoring a dramatic touchdown. Beck had never beaten the Utes, but he redeemed himself driving the Cougars down the field to the Utes’ 12-yard line with three seconds left. The Utes did the same thing they did in overtime the year before, dropping the entire defense into pass coverage. Beck took his time - a lot of time. Finally the Utes’ defense was pressuring Beck, forcing him to the right side of the field. Just before Beck got tackled, he threw the ball desperately across his body to the left side of the end zone where he found the wide-open Jonny Harline for the game-winning touchdown. Ute and Cougar fans will both remember this moment forever, and even Utah fans can say that it was the cap to a great game. This 2006 win for BYU kept Utah from winning the rivalry game for the fifth year in a row.
Here’s to another great moment or two in this storied rivalry on Saturday.
Trevor Amicone is the sports director at 88.1 Weber FM "Ogden's Radio Station" and host of the sports talk radio show, "Fully Loaded Sports with Trevor Amicone". To check out more blogs, go to trevorstoptens.com