PROVO — Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz was speechless, and seething.
In the seconds after BYU's monumental 21-14 victory over the Fighting Irish on Oct. 15, 1994, at historic Notre Dame Stadium, Cougar running back Hema Heimuli raced toward Holtz and extended his hand.
"I'm a big Lou Holtz fan. I was the first one to shake his hand," Heimuli recalled Wednesday. "For me, that was a big deal. He was mad, you could tell. I just said, 'Great game, coach.' He acknowledged me and was respectful, but you could tell he wasn't happy."
BYU's stunning upset over the No. 17-ranked Irish upset a lot of folks in South Bend.
It prompted questions about Holtz's job security, knocked Notre Dame out of the national rankings for the first time in eight years and marked the fewest points the Irish had scored at home since 1986. Notre Dame finished the season with a 6-5-1 record, just one year after finishing No. 2 in the final polls.
It was BYU's first — and only — victory at Notre Dame in four attempts. The Cougars lost big to the Irish in 1992, 2003 and 2005.
BYU returns to South Bend Saturday (1:30 p.m. MDT, NBC) to face an undefeated Notre Dame squad that is ranked No. 5 in the nation.
For longtime assistant coach Lance Reynolds, that win 18 years ago remains fresh in his mind, adding that it ranks among the greatest in school history.
"It would have to be among the best ones," he said. "It was at Notre Dame, against a storied program. Anytime you get a win like that, at a place like that, it's just huge. It was kind of like the Miami game (in 1990)."
Chad Lewis, who played tight end for the Cougars and now serves as an associate athletic director, recalled that as BYU's team buses left the stadium after the game, Fighting Irish fans put down their coats and blankets and clapped their hands. "Our team stood staring out the window at these people," Lewis said. "It was totally amazing."
That '94 BYU team included backup fullback Kalani Sitake, who is now the defensive coordinator at Utah. It featured wide receiver Tim Nowatzke, who grew up in Michigan City, Ind., located near South Bend. Nowatzke joined the LDS Church while at BYU and he spoke at a pregame fireside in the area with legendary coach LaVell Edwards.
Heimuli remembers taking a tour of the campus landmarks prior to the '94 game, which provided an unforgettable experience — one that he shares with his children today.
"You watch 'Rudy,' and you hear the stories, then you take a tour and see the Golden Dome and Touchdown Jesus," he said. "Everything there is just amazing. For me, the win was against a very good team, against a legendary-type team with Lou Holtz. We saw the 'Play Like A Champion' sign. We wanted to make sure we saw that sign and touched it. Touching the sign and going through the tunnel, walking on that grass, it makes you understand how much history has been made there."
Reynolds, who has been on the BYU sidelines for 29 years, understands the significance of playing at Notre Dame and is looking forward to going back.
"It's a neat place. It's similar in some ways to us, a spiritual-based, religious-based school," he said. "They have the grotto where they light candles and pray. They have a statue of Christ that is unbelievable. The people are different than a lot of people. Very welcoming. Very cordial. They are true fans. There was no derogatory, ugly thing like you feel other places. It's very impressive."
In the 1994 game, BYU played a smashmouth brand of football, turning in a stellar defensive performance. Offensively, the Cougars were led by quarterback John Walsh and running back Jamal Willis. Willis ran for 75 yards and scored two touchdowns. In the fourth quarter, Willis' two-yard TD plunge gave the Cougars a 21-14 advantage, and BYU held on for the victory.
"We knew that LaVell Edwards hadn't won in South Bend. That was important to us," Lewis said. "We wanted to win it for him."
And after the game, "We had the feeling that we belong" in the upper echelon of college football, Lewis added. "We sang Notre Dame's fight song the whole way while flying home."
Can the Cougars, who are a two-touchdown underdog this year against the Fighting Irish, pull another memorable upset?
"When you're there, you can easily get caught up in the atmosphere and tradition of Notre Dame," Heimuli said. "It all comes down to the belief factor. Notre Dame trounced us the year before in Provo, but at Notre Dame, our players stepped up. The year before we didn't think we could win and it showed on the field. That was the big difference."
Heimuli added that the 2012 Cougars need to return to their roots offensively. "They need to get their passing game in gear," he said. "I do not recognize BYU anymore by their offense. Someone hijacked our DNA, our core."
Lewis, who is attending Saturday's game, outlined how the Cougars can beat the Irish again in South Bend.15 comments on this story
"It starts with preparation and belief. They need to believe they can win. I think they do. They have a good team. Notre Dame is good and playing with momentum and they have a lot on the line. BYU needs to put it all together on offense and defense for four quarters and play great, emotional, smart football, and the players need to understand that they represent BYU. That's how you win a game like this."
Cougars on the air
BYU (4-3) at No. 5 Notre Dame (6-0)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT
Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.
TV: NBC Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM