Thrilling victories and dramatic finishes are a staple of football games between BYU and Utah. Twelve of the last 15 games in the Holy War have been decided by a touchdown or less. A single play or two can literally make all the difference in these contests.
It has turned the BYU-Utah rivalry into a game players look forward to each season.
“Those games are the most fun,” linebacker Fred Warner said. “It’s most emotional. The intensity is huge. Playing in a hostile environment like that over at Utah is going to be fun.”
Utah has had a upper hand in the Holy War since joining the Pac-12. The Utes have beaten BYU five straight times, most recently handing the Cougars a 35–28 loss in the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl. That latest defeat turned out to be one of the most frustrating setbacks for BYU yet. Utah forced turnovers on five consecutive BYU drives to bury the Cougars in a 35–0 hole before the first quarter even ended.
“It’s continued to repeat in our minds,” linebacker Butch Pau’u said. “Friends and classmates continue to remind us about it. But we’ll be OK. We just need to calm down and make sure everyone focuses on their assignments and what they need to do.”
If BYU can hang with Utah right down to the wire this time around, the Cougars do have a penchant for turning the odds in their favor. Five of BYU’s most memorable victories over Utah went down to the final seconds — or even the final play itself:
1. Beck-to-Harline (2006)
After four straight non-winning seasons, BYU finally bounced back in 2006 to win its second outright Mountain West Conference title. The Cougars clinched that championship with a 33–31 victory over Utah in their regular season finale.
Senior quarterback John Beck threw a 11-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Jonny Harline on the game’s final play. It capped a 10 play, 75 yard drive over the final 1:19 of the game and, for BYU, completed a rally from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Beck totaled 375 yards and four touchdowns on 29-of-43 passing while leading the Cougars to touchdowns on their final three drives.
2. LaVell’s Last Miracle (2000)
There weren’t many bright spots on the football field for BYU during LaVell Edward’s final season in Provo. Injuries and inconsistent quarterback play took their toll and the Cougars entered the season finale against Utah needing a win to avoid sending Edwards off with just his second losing season in 29 years as a head coach.
BYU needed a late fourth-quarter miracle to avoid that fate. Trailing Utah 27–26 with 1:04 left after blowing a 16-point lead, the Cougars needed to convert a 4th-and-13 to keep their final drive alive. Junior quarterback Brandon Doman connected with Jonathan Pittman on a 34-yard gain to move the chains out to the Utah 49. Then, with just 23 seconds left, Doman scored himself on a 4-yard run to lift BYU to a 34–27 victory and send Edwards out a winner.
3. Gilford Seals Comeback (2001)
BYU needed a furious fourth quarter comeback to beat Utah in two consecutive seasons for the first time since Ty Detmer quarterbacked the Cougars. Luke Staley fueled the 24–21 come-from-behind win. The 2001 Doak Walker Award winner rushed for 169 yards on 17 carries and scored two crucial touchdowns in final 3 1/2 minutes. Staley put BYU ahead for good with 1:16 remaining on a 30-yard scoring run down the sideline.
Utah drove into field goal range after completing a fourth down tackle-eligible pass to Jordan Gross with 16 seconds remaining. Jernaro Gilford spoiled Utah’s attempt to retake the lead, intercepting Ute quarterback Lance Rice on the next play to seal the win. The victory helped BYU, at the time, break a four-game home losing streak to Utah that extended back to 1991.
4. Hall-to-George (2009)
A near-disastrous collapse proceeded BYU’s most recent victory in the series. The Cougars led 20–6 in the fourth quarter, only to see Utah score 17 unanswered points — culminating in a 29-yard field goal from Joe Phillips in overtime. It was one of five field goals Phillips made in the game.
Max Hall answered with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Andrew George on BYU’s only play of overtime, lifting BYU to a 26–23 victory. It redeemed an otherwise tough outing for Hall. The senior threw for just 134 yards on 12-of-32 passing and ended up being sacked four times during his final game against the Utes.
5. Kaneshiro’s Miss (1998)
Playing in the newly renovated Rice-Eccles Stadium for the first time, BYU needed a lucky bounce to reach its second Western Athletic Conference championship game in three seasons. The Cougars appeared to be on their way to a comfortable win when Owen Pochman booted a 47-yard field goal with 2:41 left. It all changed on the ensuing kickoff.
Daniel Jones raced 95 yards for a touchdown to cut BYU’s lead to 26–24. Utah’s defense then forced the Cougars to punt and drove down to the BYU 15-yard line in the final seconds. Ryan Kaneshiro came out to attempt a 32-yard field goal. Kaneshiro bounced the kick off the right upright, allowing BYU to escape with an improbable victory.