The Holy War -- a historical look at the 76th Meeting between Utah and BYU
PROVO -- It all started on October 14, 1922. Well, according to BYU, anyway. Utah claims the first meeting between the schools was on April 6, 1896, when BYU was still Brigham Young Academy. BYA did in fact play football with mostly high-school aged pupils from 1896 to 1898. Following the death of a player, the Academy suspended play from 1899 until 1919.
It's just one of many things the two schools don't agree on. The Academy played Utah six times between 1896 and 1898, before Provo could officially boast its own full-fledged university. Each team won three games.
When the Academy began playing football again in 1919, head coach Eugene L. Roberts played against high school teams through the 1920 season. In 1921, nearly ready for collegiate competition, BYU played home-and-home series with the Ogden Athletic Club and the freshmen teams from Utah and Utah State. In 1922, BYU official began competition as a University-sanctioned sport.
The Cougars and the Utes have built a strong tradition of intense competition in the 75 years of the rivalry. With the exception of the war years from 1943-45, the two schools have faced each other every year since 1922.
The Utes dominated the series early on, avoiding defeat until 1942, when the Cougars finally won, 12-7, in Salt Lake City behind Coach Floyd Millet. The success was short-lived, however, as it took BYU another 16 years to win another contest, 14-7, again in Salt Lake City in 1958. In all, Utah won 32 of the first 40 contests, four of which were ties.
In 1965, the momentum began to turn in BYU's favor. The Cougars took three in a row from the Utes from 1965-67, and although Utah won the next four, the competition had become much more interesting.
In 1972, the series took on an entirely different feeling with the arrival of LaVell Edwards as BYU's new head coach. He took on a program that had gone 5-38-4 (.149) against its fiercest rival and proceeded to post a 21-7 (.750) record against Utah in 28 years, including wins in 15 of his first 16 meetings with the Utes. In the Edwards' era, the Cougars outscored the Utes an average of 35.6 to 20.7 per contest. Coach Edwards' career has included winning streaks of nine (1979-87) and six (1972-77) games against Utah.
The annual showdown generates considerable interest throughout the state, making it a virtual certainty that whatever stadium the teams play in will be sold out well in advance. In all, seven of Utah's top-ten home crowds before the expansion of Rice Stadium were for games against BYU. Meanwhile, 45 miles south in Provo, the grudge match has accounted for five of the 20 largest crowds in the history of Cougar Stadium.
One of the more memorable moments in the rivalry was the 1989 contest in which the Cougars pasted the Utes, 70-31, in Provo. It was a game in which the home team scored touchdowns in each of its first seven possessions and in all eight with Ty Detmer as quarterback. In a move of mercy, Detmer was replaced by backup Sean Covey late in the second quarter.
Then there were the infamous back-to-back, 34-31, losses at the hands of the Utes in 1993 and '94, giving rebirth to a rivalry that had become ridiculously lopsided in the 80s and early 90s. In all, the Utes won three in a row (1993-95) under coach Ron McBride.
The Cougars responded to the new aggression in 1996 with a dominating, 37-17, victory in Salt Lake City. BYU employed an extremely unconventional approach, gaining 376 yards in 63 attempts on the ground and attempting only 12 passes.
In 1998, a well-placed ESPN microphone picked up an audible "clank" as the potentially game-winning kick bounced off the right goal post, allowing BYU to escape with a, 26-24, victory -- despite Ron McBride's sideline prayer, as captured on national television.
BYU let the Utes back into the game after having seemingly put the game away in the fourth quarter, allowing Utah to set up a 32-yard field goal to win the game. BYU fans gave credit to divine intervention as the chip shot mysteriously hooked to the right at the last possible moment.
Provo has been much more friendly to the Cougars over the years, as BYU has posted a 12-14-1 record overall at home but has only managed a 14-30-3 record on the road against the Utes. Lately home field advantage seems to have become less of a factor, as the Utes have won three straight at Cougar Stadium and the Cougars have taken two in a row in Salt Lake City.