Brad Rock: The U.-BYU rivalry: to infinity and beyond
SALT LAKE CITY — The Rivalry Formerly known as Utah-BYU took a final turn in its current incarnation, Saturday, amid the usual stomach-lurching, migraine-inducing drama.
From now on, it will be less intense and personal. It won't really matter who wins, because neither team will be going for the same prize, right?
Try telling that to the players. And the fans. And the ratings people, who must be loving this stuff.
Yup, another Indiana Jones ending: Utah 17, BYU 16.
In a way, it actually is a lot like an action film: Harrowing circumstances, narrow escapes, a lot of screaming and bullet-dodging going on. Try this for drama: an interception by one team, a fumble recovery and a blocked field goal by the other — all in the final minutes. A game that changed in an instant and, for the second straight year, was decided on the final play.
Will the new Utah vs. BYU be anything less?
"No. Not a bit. You see how it is out there," said Ute offensive tackle Tony Bergstrom. "That's never cooling down."
This, then, is the way it looks from field level: This thing isn't going away.
"As long as there's a weekend to play them, we'll play them, and I'm sure they feel the same," continued Bergstrom.
See you in September.aaaaaa
The only difference now is that there are just 42 weeks instead of 52 to prepare.
"I think it will always be this way. I mean, the way we fight for each other's neck, I think it will never change," said Ute defensive tackle Sealver Siliga. "I think going our separate ways is going to make it even worse, 'cause now we're not in the same conference. Now we're saying, 'Who's better now?' "
There is, of course, another side to the argument. In the future, the whole season isn't nearly as likely to be ruined by the opponent. Utah can still win the Pac-12 if it loses to BYU and the Cougars can still thrive as an independent if they lose to Utah. Next year's game is on Sept. 17.
At the same time, Utah-BYU has never been just about the conference. In the past 14 years, the game has been decided by a touchdown or less 12 times. Yet only once in over three decades has it come down to an outright title for both teams.
There have been championships pending for one or the other, or BCS ramifications, which helped the rivalry along. But there has never been much need for embellishment.
Along the way, there have been a ton of memories. Who could forget the day Ryan Kaneshiro clanked the game-winning kick off the upright? Or Beck-to-Harline, Hall-to-Collie, Ratliff-to-LaTendresse?
Who could forget Lenny Gomes saying the Utes would soon be pumping his gas or Austin Collie saying magic happens?
Who doesn't remember 34-31?
There wasn't any conference championship on the line when they met for the first time in 1896, and that seemed to be enough (they played three games with the widest margin being eight points). Saturday there was no title — or even an important bowl invitation — at stake. There wasn't even a bowl or conference representative in attendance.
Didn't matter. It played out just as it should have: unrelentingly. Even before the coin flip, the teams had to be separated. BYU went up 13-0 in the third quarter, with Utah showing no inclination to score. The Utes switched to backup quarterback Terrance Cain to start the second half, but he threw two interceptions, so they went back to Jordan Wynn. BYU appeared in decent position. But then time seemed to slow, as it usually does. Utah got a field goal, recovered a fumble and scored on the first play from scrimmage. The air went silent and deafening at the same time. BYU moved ahead 16-10, and appeared safe when Brandon Bradley intercepted.
But that was only the beginning.
Kendrick Moeai stripped the ball on the return and the Utes had a shot. Three plays later they were ahead by one.
The Cougars expertly moved down field, positioning for the game-winning field goal, a 42-yard attempt. But Brandon Burton stormed in to block the kick as time expired. Players from both teams wandered off, dazed and teary, for different reasons. Fans mobbed the field and history marched ahead.
Time indeed could ebb the rivalry, but it doesn't seem likely to happen soon. Not while the feelings are so raw, the games so close.
"I think that as long as we keep playing each other," said reserve defensive back Tyler Whittingham — the son of you-know-who — "the stakes are going to be high."
Long live the rivalry. Long live Utah-BYU.
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