Remembering 1994 and 2004: BYU’s wins over mighty Notre Dame have been few and far between
No. 16 Cougars and 2-2 Fighting Irish will meet for the ninth time Saturday in Las Vegas, with Notre Dame holding a 6-2 lead in the all-time series
After he was one of the top 10 high school quarterbacks in the country out of Redmond, Washington, in 1999, Matt Berry’s career at BYU didn’t go as well as the former Prep Star All-American would have liked.
“It was a wonderful game. We were fortunate to get a victory. We had a very solid team with (Todd) Watkins, (Austin) Collie, Dennis Pitta, Brady Poppinga, who had a couple of sacks, some very good players who would go on to do incredibly well in the NFL.” — Former BYU QB Matt Berry on the Cougars’ 20-17 win over Notre Dame in 2004
But Berry will always have the night of Sept. 4, 2004, at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
“I think that was definitely my signature win,” Berry told the Deseret News on Monday.
And it came against the mighty Notre Dame Fighting Irish, no less.
Taking over for Beck in the second quarter of the season opener after Beck had suffered a shoulder injury, Berry threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Austin Collie — the first TD catch of Collie’s brilliant career — and a game-sealing 37-yard pass to Todd Watkins to lift the Cougars to a 20-17 win in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 65,251 in Provo.
That win, in what would be the final seasons for BYU coach Gary Crowton and Irish coach Tyrone Willingham, was BYU’s second over the Irish after the Cougars stunned ND 21-14 at Notre Dame Stadium in 1994. It still stands as the Cougars’ last win in the series.
Notre Dame has won the last three matchups, all played in South Bend, Indiana. The Irish got revenge in 2005 with a 49-23 win as Charlie Weis’ crew crushed Bronco Mendenhall’s team in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus.
After BYU joined Notre Dame as a college football independent in 2011, the Irish won by scores of 17-14 and 23-13 in 2012 and 2013, respectively, in the first two games of what was supposed to be a six-game series between 2012 and 2020.
Which brings us to 2022. The No. 16 Cougars and 2-2 Notre Dame will square off Saturday at 5:30 p.m. MDT in Las Vegas in the ninth meeting between the faith-based schools. Notre Dame leads the series 6-2.
Berry, now living in Sandy, Utah, with his former Cougarette wife and the CEO of a health care software company he co-founded, said he will be there in Sin City, cheering on the Cougs.
The father of three daughters heavily involved in sports might just share some of his memories from the breakthrough 2004 win, as he did with the Deseret News the other night.
“It was a wonderful game. We were fortunate to get a victory,” Berry said. “We had a very solid team with Watkins, Collie, Dennis Pitta, Brady Poppinga, who had a couple of sacks, some very good players who would go on to do incredibly well in the NFL.”
Berry remembers glancing into the crowd before the game, and although it didn’t match the 1993 crowd of 66,247 — the largest crowd in stadium history — that watched No. 3 Notre Dame pummel the Cougars 45-20 in Provo, it was more packed than he had ever seen it.
“I remember the awe of playing Notre Dame and having them come to Provo,” he said. “It was the most people (at LES) in a long, long time. I remember it was standing-room-only.”
BYU jumped ahead 20-3 in the third quarter after Collie’s big TD and withstood a big Notre Dame comeback engineered by quarterback Brady Quinn. BYU took over with 2:23 remaining and was able to run out the clock, thanks to Watkins’ big catch.
“I remember coach Crowton said, ‘Hey, just throw it as far as you can to Watkins,’” Berry said. “That was when I was throwing with sort of half a hand (due to the fracture suffered the previous season against New Mexico) but it got the job done. Watkins made an incredible leaping catch to give us the first down and we kinda grinded out the clock from there.”
Berry said because of leaders such as punter Matt Payne (who pinned the Irish inside their 20 six times), Fahu Tahi, Curtis Brown, Daniel Coats, Cameron Jensen and Aaron Francisco, the Cougars were “not intimidated at all” about playing the Irish.
“There is some sort of heightened respect with Notre Dame, whether you go there or whenever you play them,” he said. “I would say it is a heightened respect due to the legacy they have, but there was zero intimidation. Regardless of what the (odds were), or what the expectations were around us, the feeling in the locker room was that we were going to win.”
Crowton said after the 2004 game that it is “so fun” to beat Notre Dame “just because it is such a storied program,” and predicted the victory would give the Cougars momentum to put together a great season. But that didn’t happen. BYU lost 37-10 to Stanford the following week — Berry suffered another hand injury the third play of the game and was replaced by third-string QB Jason Beck and then fourth-stringer Jackson Brown — to begin a three-game slide that included a 42-10 loss to Reggie Bush and No. 1 USC in Provo and a 28-27 loss to No. 21 Boise State at Albertsons Stadium.
Berry returned for his senior season in 2005 when it was apparent John Beck was going to be the clearcut starter, bypassing opportunities to go elsewhere, and the Cougars made a return visit to South Bend. No. 9 Notre Dame pounded the Cougars 49-23, with Quinn racking up 467 passing yards.
Was Sept. 4, 2004, his proudest moment as a Cougar?
“I don’t know, maybe,” he said. “I am still proud to be a Cougar. I don’t think it is any secret that I had an opportunity to go elsewhere, but didn’t. I am very proud of that. … It was a win people still talk about, or bring up to me. They remember how exciting that game was, and just being there to see it all.”
And watch the last time BYU beat Notre Dame.
Reliving the 1994 win at Notre Dame
Of course, BYU’s win in Provo that September night wasn’t the first time the upstarts from out West knocked off the Mighty Irish.
BYU vs. Notre Dame all-time results
No. 10 Notre Dame 42, BYU 16 (1992)
No. 3 Notre Dame 45, BYU 20 (1993)
BYU 21, No. 17 Notre Dame 14 (1994)
Notre Dame 33, BYU 14 (2003)
BYU 20, Notre Dame 17 (2004)
No. 9 Notre Dame 49, BYU 23 (2005)
No. 5 Notre Dame 17, BYU 14 (2012)
Notre Dame 23, BYU 13 (2013)
On Oct. 15, 1994, BYU traveled to South Bend after having been walloped 42-16 and 45-20 by the Irish in 1992 and 1993 and rode off with a 21-14 win over No. 17 Notre Dame that became known as the beginning of the end for legendary Irish coach Lou Holtz.
Current coach Kalani Sitake was a true freshman on that squad that got a two-yard touchdown run from Jamal Willis with 14:57 remaining in the game to take a 19-14 lead. Hema Heimuli’s two-point conversion run capped the scoring and the Cougars carried their own legendary coach, LaVell Edwards, off the field on their shoulders.
“That was fun. You are going against Lou Holtz. You are going against a program that when I was in high school we had a lot of guys in the St. Louis area that played for Notre Dame. So just seeing everything there in South Bend was awesome,” Sitake recalled Monday.
“Being a true freshman and playing in that game was a lot of fun. I think there is a scene, a picture where Jamal Willis is jumping over the goal line, and my kids saw the picture. It is framed up here (in the BYU football offices lobby) somewhere. Jamal is jumping in for a touchdown.
“My wife (pointed to the picture) and said there is daddy. My kid points at Jamal and I say, ‘No, I am the guy down here blocking for Jamal jumping over the top.’”
Sitake said he still remembers how well Notre Dame fans treated the Cougars, even though BYU had broken through with the historic win.
“I was so impressed by the Notre Dame fans,” he said. “So much class. Getting off the bus and them clapping for us, it was such a cool environment. Even when we left with the win, standing ovation when we left.
“They really appreciated the way we played that game,” he continued. “Just a great environment, great history behind it. Just looking forward to playing them again and seeing their fanbase in that stadium, mixed with ours. It is going to be a lot of fun.
“It is a football game, so it is going to be intense. But there is going to be a lot of respect and sportsmanship and class I know from the fans and definitely from the players on the field.”
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