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OGDEN -- In 2004, the University of Utah football team became the first non-BCS school to play in a BCS bowl game. The door it knocked down that year has since been passed through by more flashy and trendy teams, but the Utes were the original, the premiere and the most dominant BCS busters. They did it first and they were later the first to do it twice.
Last summer, the University of Utah was invited to join the Pacific-12 Conference in a historic step for the program. All that history, all that progress and all that success never would have happened were it not for Ron McBride.
As Coach Mac now retires from his legendary career, we take a look back at the Top 10 most memorable moments in his head coaching career, during which he took a University of Utah program that was dead in the water to being on its way to unprecedented heights and a Weber State program to an unparalleled level of competition.
10. Coach Mac’s last win over BYU
It came in his last game at Utah. Going into the rivalry game, just about everyone knew that the Utes were going to let Mac go at the end of the year after six losses in a row in the middle of the season. The masses filled Rice-Eccles Stadium for the first time all year to show their support for McBride. Although he didn’t necessarily leave on his terms, he did leave in his style. The Utes won a pad-popping, defensive battle, 13-6. Fans carried Mac off the field on their shoulders as he shined that famous Coach Mac smile.
9. 1999 win over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl
After claiming the inaugural Mountain West Conference Championship (co-championship with BYU and Colorado State), McBride and the Utes faced off against Fresno State in the Vegas Bowl. A late 70-yard drive produced a game-winning Cletus Truhe field goal. In true McBride fashion, the defense won the game by holding the Bulldogs late. Running back Mike Anderson ran for a bowl game-record 254 yards and the Utes finished the season 9- 3, a feat that was uncommon at that point in program history, another sign at how far McBride took the program. Anything less than ten wins for the Utes now seems to disappoint. The Utes won ten games last season in what many fans considered a down year.
8. Mac’s Wildcats whoop Montana in 2008
The year 2008 was a historic one for Weber State football. The Wildcats made it to the FCS playoffs and later, the quarterfinals. They also beat rival Montana, 45-28. In recent history, the Grizzlies seemed unbeatable to the Weber State program, but that year, Montana was no match for the Wildcats. Sophomore quarterback Cameron Higgins threw four touchdown passes and senior running back Trevyn Smith racked up 212 total yards of offense. At McBride’s retirement press conference, this game was one he mentioned as one of his personal favorites, saying he loved every minute of the beat down. “We kicked them around like they were dogs,” he recalled.
7. Winning the inaugural Mountain West title
In 1999, the Utes joined the newly-formed Mountain West Conference. The Utes needed a win over rival BYU on the last day of the regular season to be the conference co-champions with BYU and Colorado State. The Utes walked into a hostile Cougar Stadium and beat the Cougars, 20-17. Quarterback T.D. Croshaw threw two second-half touchdowns and Andre Dyson’s second interception of the game halted a BYU comeback on its last drive of the game to seal the deal and the Mountain West Conference Championship. As the team with the best overall record, the Utes were invited to the Las Vegas Bowl where they beat Fresno State, as mentioned earlier.
6. 2001 Las Vegas Bowl victory over USC
The Trojans were led by head coach Pete Carroll and quarterback Carson Palmer in 2001 when they waltzed into Vegas looking for an easy victory over Coach Mac’s Utes. Utah’s defense stifled USC’s high- powered offense led by Palmer, however, in the 10-6 Christmas day victory. Doused from his Gatorade bath, McBride conducted the band in “Utah Man” and celebrated his favorite kind of victory.
5. First-round playoff win over heavily-favored Cal Poly in 2008
A week after Cal Poly took Wisconsin to overtime, Mac led Weber State into San Luis Obispo and beat the third-ranked Mustangs, 49-35, in the first round of the FCS playoffs. Cam Higgins threw for 399 yards, 199 of which were thrown to receiver Tim Toone, who caught ten passes. McBride said this was one of the finest played games he’s ever been a part of.
“That was probably the best football game we’ve ever played here [at Weber State],” he said at his retirement press conference. “Cal Poly, I thought, was the best team in the country that year. We played a perfect game that day.”
When the Utes beat BYU by the same score (34-31) in consecutive years, people knew they were in business. It sent the Utes to the Freedom Bowl in 1994 and it made the rivalry real again for Ute fans. Remember the feeling around here when Urban Meyer was ripping through the 2004 schedule? That was the feeling surrounding the program a decade earlier when the team started 8-0 and held a Top 10 national ranking. After two close losses at New Mexico and at Air Force, however, the season was on the brink of irrelevance again. But the win over BYU cemented what was then the best season in program history. Coach Mac had officially arrived.
3. Winning the WAC title in 1995 with another win over BYU
With yet another 34-point performance against BYU, the Utes claimed a share of the conference title with three other teams in 1995. After the 34-17 victory, Coach Mac had done something six coaches before him couldn’t do at Utah: win a conference championship. Chris Fuamatu Ma’afala led the Utes to their third win in a row over the Cougars and McBride was there to stay.
2. The 1994 Freedom Bowl
After the program’s historic season, McBride led the Utes into Anaheim for the Freedom Bowl against Arizona, a team that was ranked No. 1 during part of the season. Sports Illustrated and many other publications had picked the Wildcats to win the National Championship that year. When the Utes beat them, 16-13, in the last ever Freedom Bowl, the Wildcats were ranked 15th in the nation. The Utes only managed five first downs in the game, but when quarterback Mike McCoy threw a touchdown pass to Kevin Dyson from within the grasp of Chuck Osborne in one of the most improbable plays the program has ever seen, the Utes were on their way to their first ten-win season in school history.
1. Yergensen’s kick
In 1993, McBride was just trying to not get embarrassed by rival BYU in Provo. The Utes, however, found themselves tied with the Cougars at 31 with under a minute left. Mac sent out his kicker, Chris Yergensen, to attempt a 55-yard field goal to try and win the game. Yergensen had already missed two-out-of-three field goals in the game, but he stepped up and nailed the long field goal to win the game. It was McBride’s first win over BYU, something that he would make a habit of, ultimately beating BYU more times (six) in his career at Utah than the program had done in the previous 28 years. That kick marked a changing point in the program’s history and set it on track to become a member of the Pac- 12 nearly 20 years later.
“That [kick] changed the whole complexion of Utah football,” he said on Tuesday.
Finally, adding one last jab at the rivalry he loved and reignited, McBride smiled and said, “That kick is still going.”
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". Find more of his blogs at TrevorsTopTens.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TrevorAmicone