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Utah vs BYU: History & Highlights of the Holy War

Posted by BJ Minson on

Church vs State. Red vs Blue. Utes vs Cougars.

How did the epic battle between The University of Utah and Brigham Young University begin? And how will it end?

Here is a look back...and a look forward at one of the country’s fiercest (and most exciting) college football team rivalries!

The Century-Long History

“This is the right place,” said the second Latter-day Saint prophet Brigham Young upon exiting Emigration Canyon above the Utah Valley near where the University of Utah stands today. Ironically, his namesake Brigham Young University is actually located fifty miles south in Provo. But no matter, because not long after that prophetic announcement, two universities and two football teams were formed and The Holy War began.

Early Years

The first game was played on October 14, 1922 when Utah began their 20-year rule over BYU with a 49-0 victory. BYU won one game in 1942 and then only three more games in all the years up to 1971. Utah’s record was 41-8-4 (.811) against Provo.  

Shift in Dominance

Finally, after the Cougars hired LaVell Edwards in 1972 did BYU take dominance away from the Utes. During the next 18 years, Utah went through five different coaches trying to take back their title but all to no avail. During these decades, BYU reigned with 19-2 (.905) against Utah.

Modern Mayhem

Finally, in 1993 The University of Utah hired Ron McBride as head coach, who gave Utah their first win in 22 seasons. This game triggered the state’s modern-day “Us versus Them” mentality.

Over the next eight years, the Utes and the Cougars traded wins and losses almost yearly and met up for the first time as top-25 ranked teams.

Due to the competitive nature of each team’s devoted fans, every year’s game was marked with nervous excitement, nasty name calling, and ravenous fans rushing the fields trying to pull down goalposts.

Top 10 Highlights Worth Remembering

There are dozens of highlights worth remembering from over the last century of Utah’s college football seasons but here are, perhaps, the top ten.

1- The 50-Point Margin

In 1980, BYU quarterback Jim McMahon was being heckled by Utah fans at Rice Stadium when he pointed at the 56-6 scoreboard to quiet them down. The fifty-point margin of victory is the largest for either team in the series.

2- A Series Record for Points Scored Against BYU

In 1988, Utah hadn’t won a game in ten long years when quarterback Scott Mitchell lead the way to winning 57-28, setting a series record for points scored against BYU. This record still stands today.

3- 101 Points

The very next year, in 1989, BYU set a series record by scoring 70 points behind quarterback Ty Detmer against Utah, who scored 31 points. The 101 total scored points remains a series record.

4- The Game-Winning 55-Yard Field Goal

In 1993, Utah’s kicker Chris Yergensen attempted to break the 31-31 tie by kicking a 55-yard field goal with less than a minute left in the game. He made it and won the game.

5- McBride’s Best

The 1994 season was coach Ron McBride’s best ever as he led the Utes to a 10-2 record and a top-10 finish in national rankings.

6- Edwards’ Last Game

BYU’s final game of the 2000 season also marked LaVell Edwards’ final game as coach. The exciting ending had BYU winning 34-27 with little time remaining on the clock.

7- BYU’s Shutout

2004 marked the year Utah would have its best season up to that point. New head coach Urban Meyer beat BYU with a 3-0 victory. This win ended BYU’s NCAA record for scoring in 361 straight games since 1975.

8- A Touchdown or Less

During the 2005 season, UofU’s Coach Kyle Whittingham won the overall series against BYU’s coach Bronco Mendenhall with a tally of 7-3 where eight of the ten games were decided by a touchdown or less.

9- Undefeated

In November 2006, BYU won Utah 33-31 with a touchdown and no time left on the clock. This win gave BYU an undefeated record of 8-0 in Mountain West Conference play.

10- A Hiatus Cut Short

With Utah entering the Pac-12 Conference and BYU announcing its independence, the Holy War went on a scheduled 2-year hiatus in 2014. However, Utah and BYU ended up playing each other in the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl during the postseason. Utah won 35-28.

Fascinating Facts

Here are a number of fascinating facts from over the years of football in Utah.

  • 91 = Number of rivalry games played from 1922-2016
  • 56 Utah Wins, 36 BYU Wins
  • 4 Ties (1928 0-0, 1938 7-7, 1941 6-6, 1950 28-28)
  • 211 = Number of games coached by University of Utah’s Ike Armstrong during the years 1925-1949
  • 146 = Cougars gone on to play professional football
  • 544 = Total points of Utah’s 2003 season (45.33 average points per game), a team record
  • 66,247 = BYU’s Lavell Edwards Stadium record attendance (vs. Notre Dame, 1993)
  • 22-2 (.917) = Urban Meyer’s record which is the highest winning percentage among Utah’s head coaches
  • 24 = University of Utah’s conference championships in five different conferences during their history
  • 48 = NFL Super Bowls that BYU alumni have competed in as of 2008

What Is the Future of Football in Utah?

The University of Utah and Brigham Young University have both agreed to continue their rivalry matches for the 2017-2022 seasons. However, the long term outlook on the rivalry remains unclear.

Just as fans have been split between the two teams for decades, they are just as split on the support of the continuing rivalry games. Some voice strong support (mostly BYU fans) while others (mostly Utah fans) argue the high risk/low reward pairing.

Whatever the future holds and no matter which team wins, fans throughout the ages on both sides of the field hold fond memories of enduring cold, autumn weather while the sun sets over the stadium.  

At every game, fight songs are belted out with gusto, fans of every age come together to cheer on the Red and the Blue, frenemies gather, and family traditions are carried on.

All thanks to a little game called football.

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