The BYU vs. Utah football rivalry is the stuff legends are made of. From on-the-field triumphs to good-natured heckling among fans, the rivalry has evolved into a crucial part of the BYU athletic tradition.
The first meeting in the series took place on April 6, 1896 between the University of Utah and Brigham Young Academy. The game was a preparatory scrimmage in anticipation of their meeting the following fall. Although Utah won the contest 12-4, the highlight of the game was an all-out brawl sparked by a group of locals who surrounded the BYA fans and began to harass them. The hundred or so BYA fans that had traveled to Salt Lake City to cheer on their team tired of the abuse and quickly retaliated. As one writer described the fight, "Afterwards, the hoodlums looked like they had been through a sausage mill."
Annual play began in 1922, although the first 40 years of the rivalry wasn't much of a rivalry at all. BYU rarely scored, being shut out in 10 of the first 20 meetings, and didn't win until 1942, when the Cougars triumphed 12-7 at Utah.
The rivalry took a three-year hiatus from 1943-1945 as World War II ran its course. The Utes' dominated once again upon the continuation of the yearly contest until 1958 when the Cougars beat Utah 14-7 at Utah.
BYU's football tradition and its rivalry with Utah were clearly slow in growing as the Cougars went 4-32-4 in the early years of the series.
In 1965, the Cougars began to turn the tide, stealing three victories in a row from the "U" from 1965-1967. Although BYU came out on the short end of the next four meetings, the Cougars were providing a far more interesting game than in years past.
College football in Utah and around the nation would never be the same after 1972 as LaVell Edwards stepped into the head-coaching role at BYU and began a record-setting run that will be hard to equal.
Although known for breaking the mold of hard-nosed football and taking the ball to the air, in 1972 Edwards rode tailback Pete Van Valkenburg's tough running to a 16-7 defeat of Utah in his inaugural meeting while helping Van Valkenburg lead the nation in rushing. After instituting his innovative aerial offense, Edwards led the Cougars to five straight victories in the rivalry, outscoring Utah 217-82 over the five-game stretch before losing 23-22 in 1978.
Nine more years and nine more victories went by before the Cougars lost again to Utah, this time in 1988. BYU wasted no time in avenging the loss as the Cougars hammered Utah the following year. Sitting quarterback Ty Detmer late in the second quarter in an attempt to keep the score down, the Cougars still managed to score a touchdown in each of their first seven possessions on the way to a resounding 70-31 victory.
The rivalry flared to life again after Utah squeaked out victories in 1993 and 1994 before blowing open the 1995 game to win 34-17. BYU responded with a 37-17 victory the following year on its way to a fourth-place national ranking at the end of the 1996 season.
Two of the most memorable games of the Lavell Edwards era came in his final three years as head coach. The 1998 competition was highlighted by "the kick heard 'round Utah" and just about anywhere else via ESPN. The ESPN camera caught Utah's Ron McBride imploring heavenly aid on the sideline just before Ryan Kaneshiro audibly clanked what would have been the game-winning field goal off the right goal post.
The Cougar magic went to work for Edwards one final time in 2000. Trailing with less than two minutes to go, BYU was backed up inside its own 20-yard line facing fourth down and the football equivalent of a mile. Junior quarterback Brandon Doman scrambled away from the Ute pressure and hit a wide-open Jonathan Pittman close to midfield. Another long completion to Pittman had the Cougars thinking touchdown. Calling his own number, Doman crossed the goal line with 13 seconds left, sending Edwards into retirement a winner and extending BYU's 26-year streak without a losing season.
Gary Crowton opened another chapter in the Holy War rivalry in 2001. Playing for the Mountain West Conference championship, BYU lost the first 56 minutes of the game but came up big in the final four. Luke Staley got lost in Utah's coverage with less than four minutes remaining, and Doman found him alone on the sideline for an easy score.
The Cougar defense stiffened to force a punt and once again Staley took over, taking a pitch from Doman near the 30-yard line and scampering down the sideline for the go-ahead score. Utah's last gasp ended when Jenaro Gilford picked off Lance Rice's pass to seal the 24-21 victory.
In 2005, the Cougars lost a heartbreaker in overtime to Utah in Bronco Mendenhall's debut in the rivalry. In the game, running back Curtis Brown racked up 237 yards of total offense with 153 rushing yards. Quarterback John Beck passed for 309 yards and two touchdowns, but it wasn't enough to put the Utes away.
The Utes jumped out to a quick start and took a 21-point lead into the locker room at the half. The Cougars fought hard in the second half and scored 21 points in the third quarter and 10 points in the fourth to take the game to overtime. In overtime, the Utes scored a touchdown on their second play, leaving the pressure on the Cougar offense. On fourth down, freshman Michael Reed was inches away from making a diving catch to tie the game and the Cougars fell 41-34.
The 2006 game may possibly be one of the most exciting games in the storied rivalry history. The final outcome of the game went down to the last play when John Beck found Jonny Harline all alone in the end zone as time expired, giving BYU 33-31 come-from-behind victory over Utah.
BYU got on the board first and held a 14-0 lead through the first quarter. Behind three trick plays, Utah scored a touchdown of its own in the second quarter, and by the half Utah had cut the Cougars lead. In the third quarter the tide turned for the Utes as they took their first lead of the game after making a 57-yard touchdown pass play. The struggle for the win went back and forth between Utah and BYU but the Cougars would not take the lead again until the game-winning touchdown.
The senior leadership persevered through the last drive as the Beck-to-Harline tandem came up huge on several occasions, including the game winning touchdown. On fourth-and-four Beck found Harline to convert the first down. Five plays later, the two hooked up one last time to win the game.
The Cougars have come a long way since going 4-32-4 against Utah in the first 40 years of the rivalry. Since 1965, BYU has won 26 games to Utah's 15. Naturally, the Cougars like to play at home, posting a 13-17-1 record in Provo compared to their 15-32-3 record at Utah.
BYU's annual meeting with Utah ensures a sold-out stadium wherever the game is played. Utah owes seven of its 10 largest crowds before the expansion of Rice Eccles Stadium to the Holy War while five of BYU's 20 largest crowds came by way of the rivalry game.
Not only is the game a favorite among fans but is also a favorite in the community. The week before the game is played, both campuses compete in an annual food drive to see who can gather the most non-perishable goods. Sponsored by the alumni associations of each school, it culminates in a cooperative food drive at the game where money and food are accepted. The United Way receives the food and is responsible for its distribution.