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BYU’s ‘Significant Seven’ games in Las Vegas

BYU in Las Vegas
UCLA’s #28 Chris Markey is stopped in the backfield by a host of Cougars as BYU as BYU defeats UCLA on a blocked field goal attempt of UCLA’S #15 Kai Forbathin the Las Vegas Bowl giving BYU a 17-16 win December 22, 2007.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The number seven has long been considered a lucky number by those willing to take a chance in Las Vegas. But the power of seven is not restricted to the gaming tables. There are seven wonders of the world, seven days of the week, seven continents, and seven colors of the rainbow. Even Snow White had seven dwarfs.

For BYU’s football program, Las Vegas is home to seven significant games. The Cougars take on Arizona tonight on the heels of announcement of an expected contest with Notre Dame in 2022. While the Cougars are no strangers to Southern Nevada, boasting an overall record of 12-4, these seven stands firmly above the others.

BYU vs. Oregon, Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 20, 2006

The No. 19 Cougars (10-2) routed (7-5) Oregon 38-8 in front of 44,615 at Sam Boyd Stadium. The game remains the largest crowd to watch a team sport in Nevada history and the 30-point win remains the largest margin of victory in bowl game in BYU history and the Cougars first bowl victory since the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day, 1997.

Senior quarterback John Beck led an attack that amassed 548 yards of total offense. Beck threw for two touchdowns and ran for another. Senior tight end Jonny Harline caught 9 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown and was honored as the game’s Most Valuable Player. Senior running back Curtis Brown rushed 17 times for 120 yards and two touchdowns.

BYU vs. Wyoming, WAC Championship Game, Dec. 7, 1996

With the expansion of the Western Athletic Conference to 16 teams, Las Vegas served

up the first WAC title game between No. 6 BYU (12-1) and No. 20 Wyoming (10-1) in front of 41,238 at Sam Boyd Stadium.

The Cougars took the field believing they were still in contention for the Bowl Championship Series, but the Cowboys staged an impressive fight. Leading 25-20, with just over two minutes to play, Wyoming opted to take a safety instead of punting the ball out of their own end zone, which reduced their lead to 25-22.

The decision proved costly when BYU’s Owen Pochman kicked a 22-yard field goal as time expired to force overtime. Pochman booted the game winning 32-yard field goal in the extra period sending BYU fans pouring onto the field to celebrate a 28-25 win. The victory was not good enough to win over the BCS, but it did send the Cougars to the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day where they defeated No. 14 Kansas State 19-15 to finish the season 14-1 and ranked No. 5..

The Cowboys, despite a 10-2 record, were left out of the post season.

BYU vs. UCLA, Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 22, 2007

In a rare post-season rematch of a regular season game, No. 17 BYU (10-2) set out to settle a score against UCLA (6-6) who had defeated the Cougars three months earlier 27-17 at the Rose Bowl. UCLA freshman kicker Kai Forbath kicked a 50-yard field goal with 6:24 to in the fourth quarter to pull the Bruins within 17-16. BYU built its lead on two Max Hall touchdown passes and a Mitch Payne field goal.

With a crowd of 40,712 on the edge of their seats, the Bruins marched deep into BYU territory and with three seconds remaining, Forbath lined up for what figured to be a chip-shot 28-yard field goal try.

BYU freshman Ethayn Manumaleuna rose from his nose tackle position and got just enough of his right hand on Forbath’s kick to knock it off course and the Cougars secured their first back-to-back bowl victories since 1994-1996.

BYU vs. UNLV, Sept. 29, 2001

The debut of BYU Head Coach Gary Crowton in the Mountain West Conference required some last-minute heroics to avoid an upset at UNLV in front of 32,601, with a majority pulling for the No. 20 Cougars.

Trailing 31-28 with just over two minutes to play, quarterback Brandon Doman marched BYU on a 91-yard drive. Facing fourth down and one on their own 38-yard line, Doman completed a pass to Mike Rigell for 42 yards to the UNLV 22. On the very next play, Doman, who finished the game with a partially separated shoulder, ran to the end zone for a 35-31 victory.

The come-from-behind win was part of BYU’s 12-0 start to the season where the Cougars climbed as high as No. 8 in the national rankings.

BYU vs. Oregon State, Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 22, 2009

Wind was the name of the game in the first ever match-up of two nationally ranked teams in the Las Vegas Bowl. The No. 14 Cougars (10-2) and No. 18 Beavers (8-4) battled in front of 40,018 fans and fought through wind gusts of 55 miles an hour.

Oregon State punter Johnny Hekker twice kicked into the teeth of the wind and only managed a pair of six-yard punts. BYU quarterback Max Hall threw for three touchdowns and linebacker Matt Bauman returned a fumble 34 yards for a touchdown in a 44-20 rout and gave head coach Bronco Mendenhall a win against his alma mater.

The victory also closed a unique chapter of success at BYU where the Cougars went 43-9 over four seasons.

BYU vs. UNLV, Nov. 29, 1980

The No. 12 Cougars (10-1) made their Southern Nevada debut against UNLV, an Independent, at the Las Vegas Silver Bowl, which was later named Sam Boyd Stadium.

Junior quarterback Jim McMahon put on a show. He threw for 338 yards and five touchdowns and ran for two more in front of a record crowd of 31,406. Scott Phillips scored twice, and Danny Plater caught a touchdown in BYU’s 54-14 victory. The win sent the Cougars to the Holiday Bowl against No. 19 SMU on an 11-game winning streak.

BYU vs. Cal, Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 22, 2005

After a rare three-year hiatus from the post season, the longest at BYU since before LaVell Edwards era, the (6-5) Cougars and first year head coach Bronco Mendenhall earned a date in their first Las Vegas Bowl against the (7-4) Cal Bears in front of 40,053 at Sam Boyd Stadium.

The Bears featured future NFL stars Marshawn Lynch and Desean Jackson. The running back/receiver tandem lived up to their billing, combining for 324 yards of offense and all five of Cal’s touchdowns.

BYU junior quarterback John Beck held his own, passing for 353 yards and three touchdowns, but his interception late in the game sealed a 35-28 win for Cal. Even in defeat, the game proved significant for BYU as it started a streak of 12 straight bowl appearances and 15 in the last 16 years.

These seven particular Las Vegas games are the foundation of BYU’s rich football history in Las Vegas. Like most visitors, the Cougars have had their share of good luck and bad and while 7 remains a positive number among risk takers, 13 is another story, and a win Sept. 4 against Arizona at Allegiant Stadium will give BYU its 13th win in Las Vegas.

To pull it off, the Cougars will need to focus on the Wildcats and leave superstition on the sideline.

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “After Further Review,” co-host for “Countdown to Kickoff” and the “Postgame Show” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv.