The greatness of the BYU – Utah rivalry, part 3: the plays

The rivalry between the University of Utah and BYU is defined by so many things.  There have been great players and coaches, great interviews and one liner’s and games that will last in our memories for as long as we live.  One of the other things that define the greatness of these epic battles is the plays.  The one shining moment in each game that decides the fate of both teams.

There have been plays that are so meaningful and memorable that they are referred to by name and some that can brighten up your day just by thinking about them.  On the flip side, those same plays still burn in the hearts of the losing team and lead the fans to wonder, what if.

Like most fans, I can still picture most of these plays in my head clear as day and remember the emotions that I felt when they occurred.  Sometimes the joy was almost overwhelming and with others the heartbreak hit me like a ton of bricks.

If we are lucky to have a play like that this year it will stay with us a little longer than most because it will be the only thing we have to hold onto until the teams meet again in 2016.  I truly hope that we are lucky enough for that to happen again on Saturday.  It would be a fitting end to a great era of local football for Utah and BYU fans alike.

Note: there isn’t the room or the time in a forum like this to relive every big play that has ever happened in this remarkable series so I’ve decided to pick my favorites.  Some of them you might agree with and others you might not, but either way they are plays that Cougars’ and Utes’ will never forget.

There have been plenty of special teams’ plays that have decided the outcome of some great games and that is where we will start.

2012 might have been the craziest ending to a game any football fan has ever seen.  The Cougars not only missed one field goal that would have tied the game with one second remaining but after the Utah fans stormed the field early and were given a 15 yard penalty,  the Cougars changed kickers and they missed again.  This time, Riley Stephenson hit the left upright from 36 yards out as the Cougars fell 24-21 at Rice Eccles Stadium.

2010 might have been more painful for Cougar fans.  After leading 13-0 going into the fourth quarter Utah scored ten points in less than a minute and a half to make it a game.  After BYU kicker Mitch Payne hit a 42 yard field goal to extend the Cougars lead back to six, Utah came right back down the field and answered with a three yard touchdown run with less than five minutes to go.   That gave the Utes their first lead of the game.  BYU calmly marched down the field, picking Utah apart almost at will when the Cougars decided to go conservative and settle for a field goal.  Mitch Payne had already made three field goals of longer than 37 yards on the day and was lining up for number four with almost no time left.  As the snap came and the hold got put down, Utah cornerback Brandon Burton beat his blocker around the edge and was able to block the game winning attempt as time expired.

The game in 1998 was one that BYU tried to give away and would have if it wasn’t for Utah kicker Ryan Kaneshiro.  After surrendering a long kick return touchdown with just under three minutes remaining, all BYU had to do was kill the clock, but they couldn’t get a first down and gave it right back to the Utes.  Utah made their way into great position for a field goal and had a little more than a chip shot to win the game.  Thankfully, for BYU fans the uprights got in the way of Kaneshiro’s 32 yard attempt and the Cougars escaped with a 26-24 victory.

1993 was a game for the ages and the most dramatic field goal attempt to decide a game between the Utes and Cougars.  The game was tied at 31 with almost no time remaining when the Utes decided to attempt a 55 yard field goal.  The only problem was that Utah kicker Chris Yergensen had been terrible on the day.  As he stepped on the field for the game winning try he had already missed two field goals an even and extra point.  Yergensen made up for every mistake he made by knocking the ball through the uprights with no time remaining to give Utah the 34-31 win.

Even though those four great finishes came in the kicking game not every great play has come on special teams.  It comes as no surprise to any football fans in the state of Utah that with the BYU quarterback legacy there had to be at least a few great plays made by the signal callers.

The most recent came in 2009 when BYU and Utah played one of the few overtime games in series history.  After BYU had taken a 20-6 lead late in the third quarter, the Utes came all the way back to tie the game with 29 seconds left and force the extra period.  Utah scored first in the extra frame on a 29-yard field goal by Joe Phillips to take their first lead since before half time.  It only took two plays for the Cougars to strike as BYU quarterback Max Hall hit Andrew George over the middle for a 25-yard game winning touchdown.

The 2000 game was BYU coaching legend LaVell Edwards’ last appearance at the helm and had one of the most memorable plays in BYU lore.  With BYU trailing 27-26 with a little over a minute remaining the Cougars faced a fourth-and-13 from inside their own 20.  Cougar quarterback Brandon Doman was able to find wide receiver Jonathan Pittman open down field for a 34 yard completion and new life.

One of the most meaningful plays through the air for Utah fans came in 1978.  Utah was trailing by five in the fourth quarter when Ute quarterback Randy Gomez was able to find wide receiver Frank Henry open for a 19 yard touchdown on  fourth-and-15. That score propelled the Utes to a 23-22 victory and their only win against the Cougars in a 16-year period.

The 2004 game had more than its fair share of big plays but the one that really stands out was made by wide receiver Steve Savoy.  After BYU had cut the lead to 31-21 midway through the third quarter the Cougars had designs of getting back into the game with the Utes pinned inside their own ten yard line.  That’s when Savoy came in motion and took a pitch from Alex Smith.  He managed to wiggle his way through plenty of bodies and broke a tackle on his way to a 92-yard touchdown run that effectively shut the door on the BYU comeback attempt.

2007 is remembered for one of the all-time great plays in BYU history even though the play in question wasn’t a game winner.  BYU was trailing 10-9 with a little more than a minute left, facing fourth-and-18 when something “magical” happened.  Inexplicably, BYU wide receiver Austin Collie was able to get way behind Brice McCain of Utah and made a relatively easy catch for a 49-yard gain.

2008 is remembered as the game where Max Hall threw five interceptions but one of those picks really stands out as a great play.   Utah was leading 34-24 with a little more than 12 minutes remaining when Max Hall dropped back and threw to a wide open receiver when Paul Kruger came out of nowhere to intercept the pass and return it all the way to the BYU five yard line.

As great as 2007 was for BYU fans, the 2006 game was even better and not just for one play.  With the Cougars down 24-14 in the fourth quarter, BYU had the ball at the four yard line when John Beck put the ball in the air for senior tight end Jonny Harline.   Harline managed to tip the ball and catch it while falling to his back and gaining possession for the touchdown just before he went out-of-bounds.  What made that play all the more impressive was the fact that Ute defender Eric Weddle was all over him.

The greatest play in rivalry history for Cougar fans came a little more than 13 minutes later.  After Utah quarterback Brett Ratliff completed a 19 yard touchdown pass to Brent Casteel with a just over a minute remaining to take a 31-27 lead, John Beck went back to work.  He marched the Cougars down to the Utah 11 yard line with about three seconds remaining.  Having time for only one play, Utah decided to drop most everybody in coverage leaving Beck all day to find an open receiver.  The play seemed like it lasted an eternity with Beck scrambling around.  After time had long expired, Beck was able to find Jonny Harline back across the field with no defenders in site for the game winning touchdown and the Cougars first rivalry win in five seasons.

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