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Why Saturday’s BYU-West Virginia game is historically significant

Since BYU is now part of the Big 12, the Cougars and Mountaineers will face off somewhat regularly

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BYU Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill (7) loses the ball as he is tackled by West Virginia’s Adam Shuler in September 2016

BYU Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill (7) loses the ball as he is tackled by West Virginia Mountaineers defensive lineman Adam Shuler (88) as they play at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, on Sept. 24, 2016.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Note: This story is part of Deseret News sports team’s Flashback Friday series, which revisits memorable moments involving Utah teams.

Saturday’s football game between BYU and West Virginia is still more than 24 hours in the future, which means we can only guess at what will happen on the field between the two teams.

What we do know already is that Saturday’s action will be historically significant for at least two reasons:

  • The game marks the first time BYU is playing football in the state of West Virginia.
  • Quarterback Jake Retzlaff will reportedly start for BYU and become the first Jewish starting quarterback in school history.

The BYU and West Virginia football programs have faced off once before, but the game took place on a neutral field, according to BYU football’s game notes. In 2016, the teams met on FedEx Field in Maryland, which is home to the NFL’s Washington Commanders.

What happened when BYU last played West Virginia?

In the 2016 BYU-West Virginia game, “the Mountaineers held off a BYU comeback that ended with an interception off a tipped pass in the red zone from Taysom Hill to beat the Cougars 35-32,” the game notes document says.

After the game, BYU coach Kalani Sitake did not criticize Hill for the final tipped pass, but he did condemn an interception in the second quarter that led to a West Virginia touchdown.

“There was one bad pass that I wish he wouldn’t have done, that pick-six. That cost us — seven points going the other way. The other ones were him trying to make plays, there were tipped balls,” Sitake told reporters, according to the Deseret News. “The one errant pass is the one he shouldn’t have thrown and he knows that.”

Hill overcame that mistake and others and made it from BYU to the NFL. Today, he’s playing — and scoring touchdowns — for the New Orleans Saints, alongside another player who starred in the 2016 BYU-West Virginia game.

Running back Jamaal Williams had 169 rushing yards and two touchdowns for the Cougars against the Mountaineers. Williams signed with the Saints this year during free agency after having a breakout season in 2022 with the Detroit Lions.

When does BYU next play West Virginia?

The 32 points put up by Williams, Hill and the other Cougars against West Virginia on Sept. 24, 2016, were, at that point in the fall, a season high for BYU. The Deseret News described the matchup as a “dramatic, high-scoring Big-12 type game.”

At the time, West Virginia was indeed part of the Big 12, but BYU was independent. Today, the two schools are both part of the Big 12 conference and will face one another somewhat regularly.

After Saturday’s game, BYU and West Virginia will next meet in 2025 in Provo, according to the conference football schedule released by the Big 12 this week.

They will play in West Virginia again in 2027, as the Deseret News previously reported.