SALT LAKE CITY — Ask anyone about the Utah-BYU football series and they can come up with several classic games, whether it’s the 34-31 games, Collie’s magic, Beck-to-Harline, Burton’s block, Kaneshiro’s doink or Yergensen’s 55-yarder. Those games all came during the last 25 years when nearly every year has produced a classic moment.
Today we’re going to tell you about five of the most underrated Utah-BYU games that were significant for various reasons, one from each decade from the 1940s to the 1980s.
Oct. 10, 1942 — BYU 12, Utah 7
If you don’t count those three victories in the 1890s when BYU was known as B.Y. Academy — which BYU doesn’t — the Cougars had never beaten Utah in 20 tries, losing 17 games and tying three others going into this game. It didn’t look to be any different when the two teams met on a fall afternoon at Ute Stadium.
The catalyst for the win was a blocked punt in the fourth quarter when, according to the newspaper account, “the center of the blue forward wall converged on young Wally Kelly” as he punted deep in Utah territory and the Cougars recovered on the 10-yard line. Three plays later, Herman Longhurst ran around the right end and soon after the Cougars were “able to ring the victory bell that BYU backers have been waiting for years to hear.”
Nov. 26, 1953 — Utah 33, BYU 32
It was a nationally televised game just a few years after TV became a staple in American homes and played on Thanksgiving Day. Utah came into the game as a heavy favorite with a 7-2 record and a first-place standing in the Skyline Conference compared to BYU’s 2-6-1 mark and last-place standing in the conference.
Behind fullback Don Peterson, the “Redskins” dominated early and led 26-13 in the third quarter before the Cougars mounted a comeback to tie the score at 26 on a run by Don James. The Utes came right back with a touchdown drive as Peterson went over from the 2-yard line and thought they had the game. Then the Cougars put together an 80-yard touchdown drive to pull within one point in the waning minutes. However, the extra point try was muffed when the holder couldn’t handle the snap and was swarmed under by the Utes.
After the win, the Utah seniors voted not to accept an invitation to play in the Sun Bowl on New Year’s Day. According to the newspaper account, the reason was because “the married men on the squad needed the vacation employment to augment their incomes.”
Carter’s Coming-Out Party
Nov. 6, 1965 — BYU 25, Utah 20
This was a year after Utah’s big season (9-2, Liberty Bowl win) when the Utes had won 47-13 and the Utes came in having lost just two of the previous 41 meetings between the two schools.
This was seven years before the start of the LaVell Edwards’ passing era, but you could say this season was the start of the Cougars’ quarterback tradition. Virgil Carter was in his second year as BYU’s QB and by passing for four touchdowns against Utah, he not only set a BYU record, but a WAC record as well in leading the victory.
Most of the scoring came in the first half. Carter hit Tim Russell for the first score and after Utah came back to take a 14-6 lead in the second quarter, Carter responded with three more TD passes, another to Russell, one to Dennis Palmer for a 36-yard score and then Phil Odle from 22 yards out.
That made it 25-14 at the half and the Utes added a score early in the third quarter and from there it was up to the Cougar defense to keep the Utes out of the end zone and preserve the victory as Bobby Ashdown intercepted a last-gasp pass by the Utes in the final minute.
Not only did Carter complete 16 of 29 passes for 253 yards, he was BYU’s best runner with 83 yards on 19 carries. By the time he left BYU after the 1966 season, he had set six national, 19 conference and 24 school records and went on to play in the NFL for several years.
Nov. 20, 1971 — Utah 17, BYU 15
Neither team was having a very good season as the Utes came into the late November game 2-7, while the Cougars were 5-5 and looking to end with a winning season. Two local players who played high school ball in Salt Lake and went on to be teammates in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys played key roles in the contest.
Golden Richards, who prepped at Granite High School, got the scoring started with a 73-yard punt return, one of an NCAA-record four punt return touchdowns that season off a punt by Utah’s all-American punter Marv Bateman, who played for Highland High. The Utes came back with a pair of touchdowns, runs by quarterback Don Van Galder and halfback Cal Poulson, to go ahead 14-6 at the end of the first quarter.
BYU came back with a field goal and a touchdown after an 86-yard drive to go ahead 15-14, but they missed a two-point conversion that proved costly later. The Utes drove to the 15-yard line and Bateman, who had missed a 38-yarder earlier in the quarter, booted a 32-yard field goal with 1:05 left to give Utah the victory.
Nov. 20, 1982 — BYU 17, Utah 12
After losing 56-6 and 56-28 the previous two seasons, the Utes dominated the statistics in this game, but couldn’t get the win against Steve Young & Co. Despite getting 24 first downs compared to 11 for BYU and rolling up 468 yards to 300 for the Cougars, BYU came away with the narrow victory to clinch another WAC title and a fifth consecutive trip to the Holiday Bowl.
Under first-year coach Chuck Stobart, the Utes used a ball-control offense led by Carl Monroe and Hilria Johnson, who rushed for 147 and 145 yards respectively. However, four turnovers, three fumbles and an interception, compared to zero for the Cougars, proved to be the difference.
The Utes fumbled at the 1-yard line, threw an interception into the end zone and stalled at the 7-yard line after an 83-yard drive, or they might have won going away.
“We gave that game away,” Utah quarterback Kenny Vierra said afterward. “The fumble and the interception killed us and that was my fault.”