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The BYU-Utah Rivalry has all the elements needed to make it one of the best in the country. Proximity, hatred, intensity, star power, great coaches, classic finishes, and memorable plays. It all adds up to an impressive history that goes back almost a century.
The rivalry officially began in 1922. The teams played six times while BYU was known as Brigham Young Academy but the Cougars don't recognize those games in the series. The Rivalry was dominated by Utah for the first 4 decades. In the first 42 games, BYU won just twice, in 1942 and 1958. Things were so bad for the cougars that in 1953 Head Coach Chick Atkinson was carried off the field in celebration after a 33-32 loss.
The Cougars didn't win consecutive games in the rivalry until Quarterback Virgil Carter and Phil Odle led them to 3 straight victories from 1965-67. Carter would go on to play in the NFL. Soon after Carter and Odle graduated, the Utes regained their hold on the rivalry for four more seasons.
In 1972, the rivalry changed forever when BYU hired a little known defensive coordinator named LaVell Edwards. He not only brought the program out of obscurity put turned it into a national power, winning a National Championship in 1984. During that time BYU dominated Utah. From 1972 to 1992 they won 19 of 21 rivalry games. The Utes upset the Cougars in 1978 when Quarterback Randy Gomez led the Utes to a last minute touchdown for a 23-22 victory. The other Ute win during that time came in 1988. Quarterback Scott Mitchell led Utah to a 57-28 blowout of the Cougars. It was the biggest victory for Utah over BYU since a 47-13 win in 1964.
Order was restored the next year when Ty Detmer and the BYU offense got revenge with a 70-31 victory. It is the highest scoring game in the history of the rivalry. The Cougars would go on to win the next three games when everything would change in 1993.
Utah Senior kicker Chris Yergensen had already missed field goals of 35 and 37 yards. With 25 seconds left and the game tied at 31 the Utes were facing a 4th and 10 at the Cougars 37 yard line. They had no choice but to send out Yergensen for what seemed like an impossible field goal attempt. But his 55 yard attempt split the uprights and gave the Utes their first win in Provo since 1971.
That kick did more than just end Utah's losing streak at Cougar Stadium. The Rivalry became competitive year in and year out. Since 1988, the series is tied 10-10. In the past 10 the series is tied 5-5. 10 of the last 11 meetings have been decided by 7 points or less and 12 of the last 15. And, of course, the last three have been decided on the last play including the first overtime game in the series in 2005.
So many classic moments and memorable performances have taken place since 1993. 1994 was the first game in this rivalry where both teams were ranked. Going into the game, Utah was 8-2 and ranked #21AP while, BYU was 9-2, ranked #20AP. BYU took a 4 point lead with just over two minutes left. On the ensuing kickoff, Cal Beck returned the ball to the BYU 32 yard line. Quarterback Mike McCoy would throw a short pass to running back Charlie Brown who scored the winning touchdown. The final score was 34-31 for the second straight year.
Another great finish came in 1998 but this time it went the Cougars way. Utah Kicker Ryan Kaneshiro lined up for a chip-shot 28 yard field goal that would have won the game. But the ball "klanked" off the upright as time expired giving BYU the victory.
This decade has also featured some classic moments and fantastic finishes:
2000: LaVell's Last Miracle Trailing 27-26 with under two minutes to play, BYU goes the length of the field and scores with 11 seconds left to send legendary coach LaVell Edwards out victorious against their bitter rival.
2001: The Staley Stomp Once again finding themselves down to the Utes, BYU pulls out another miracle on a 30-yard option toss to Luke Staley down the sideline with under a minute to play.
2003: The Shutout In a November blizzard in Provo, Utah manages only a field goal, but shuts BYU out for the first time in an NCAA-record 365 games.
2004: BCS Busters Needing only one more win against "the team down south" the Utes take care of business at home 52-21 on ESPN's College GameDay to preserve a repeat MWC crown and secure a BCS Bid, the first by a mid-major school. An estimated 35,000 fans storm the field.
2006: The Answered Prayer Facing a loss with 3.2 seconds left, BYU quarterback John Beck scrambles around behind the line of scrimmage before finding a wide open Johnny Harline on his knees in the opposite corner of the end zone to win 33-31.
2007: 4th and 18 Facing what would have been their only conference loss of the year, BYU converts on a 4th and 18 from its own 12 when sophomore quarterback Max Hall finds a wide open Austin Collie down the sideline for a 48 yard gain. Freshman Harvey Unga bulls into the endzone four plays later to win the game 17-10.
What will the next chapter be in this amazing series? We can't wait to find out on Saturday.