‘This is why we came to BYU’: Playing against Notre Dame, especially in Vegas, will be a thrill for Cougars
No. 16 Cougars love playing in Sin City, but not because of the Strip, the neon lights or other distractions Las Vegas has to offer
For BYU linebacker Payton Wilgar, playing football against Notre Dame in Las Vegas will be doubly rewarding on Saturday when the No. 16 Cougars and Irish face off at Allegiant Stadium.
The fifth-year junior from St. George’s Dixie High grew up dreaming of doing both.
“Notre Dame has been around forever and they have always been an elite program. I mean, this is why we all came to BYU, to play in games like this, to play Notre Dame, an elite, historic football program,” Wilgar told the Deseret News Monday.
“Notre Dame has been around forever and they have always been an elite program. I mean, this is why we all came to BYU, to play in games like this, to play Notre Dame, an elite, historic football program.” — BYU linebacker Payton Wilgar
“They are a really good team and we are playing them in Las Vegas at Allegiant Stadium, so I don’t know if it gets much bigger than this,” he said. “We are all going to be excited to be out there on Saturday and show what we can do.”
Kickoff is at 5:30 p.m. MDT and the game will be televised nationally by NBC. BYU will be playing at Allegiant for the second time in as many years, having defeated Arizona 24-16 there in the 2021 season opener.
Wilgar made nine tackles, including a sack for an 11-yard loss, in that game.
“That stadium is a big stage, and to be able to get some experience in it and kinda feel the atmosphere, I think it will be beneficial for us to go out there and be able to do it again,” he said.
Wilgar’s father, Dana, starred for Las Vegas’ Clark High before playing for BYU from 1973-76.
“My dad is kind of a Vegas legend,” Payton said. “He played … back in the late ’60s. He was known as the Vegas Flash. And I still got a lot of family there. Vegas is kind of a second home to me. So I am super excited to be able to play there again.”
BYU offensive lineman Clark Barrington grew up near Spokane, Washington, but always kept track of Notre Dame football.
“Growing up, I (watched) them become a top team (again) and be really good throughout all those years,” Barrington said. “We are all just super excited to go play this game. It will be a good game.”
Oregon State transfer Kaleb Hayes, a cornerback, simply responded this way when asked about Notre Dame’s place in the college football world:
“Um, it is Notre Dame, you know?” He said. “In other words, BYU and Notre Dame. This is the Holy War. … It has a lot of emotions towards it. I know I am very hyped up. I know the boys are very hyped up, and fans are very hyped up for this game. The scene is set at Allegiant Stadium. It is going to be a great one, man.”
Of course, BYU teams have played hundreds of games in Las Vegas, from Las Vegas Bowls at the old Sam Boyd Stadium to showdowns with UNLV at the Thomas & Mack Center and matchups with basketball power Gonzaga and others at Orleans Arena for WCC tournament games.
The Cougars always stay far from the distractions of the famed Las Vegas Strip, and this year will be no different. Head coach Kalani Sitake said Monday that BYU is staying at Lake Las Vegas in Henderson, about 20 miles from the Strip.
Hayes is OK with it.
“Oh yeah, man,” he said. “Don’t got time to gamble or nothing like that. We are here to play ball. It is a business trip, at the end of the day. It is good to be in the area. It is fun, you see a lot of things. But we are not really here for the Strip or the lights or everything like that.”
Sitake, who played for the Cougars when they beat No. 17 Notre Dame 21-14 in 1994 in South Bend, Indiana, said his players are smart and have great football knowledge so they are familiar with the tradition and history of Notre Dame. But they won’t be in awe.
“They know the names like Notre Dame and these big-name teams. Just like you didn’t have to say much (about) Tennessee a few years back,” Sitake said. “These guys know the historic value of the program of Notre Dame.
“But when we get out there we are going to play the game. I want them to embrace the opportunity. This is a big-time program that we are going against, with great players and great coaching,” he continued. “So it is a tough task. I am looking forward to this game because I want to get the best version of ourselves, and sometimes going against a great team with great talent, and you see it on film, really gets the guys excited to get that going.”
Sitake said he doesn’t know what the result will be, “but I know we can live with the result if we show up and play our best.”
Cougars on the air
No. 16 BYU (4-1) vs. Notre Dame (2-2)
Saturday, 5:30 p.m. MDT
Las Vegas, Nevada
Radio: KSL NewsRadio 102.7 FM/1160 AM