BYU, Utah Rivalry notebook: In rivalry history, kickers have written some critical chapters
LaVell Edwards Stadium isn’t Utah kicker Andy Phillips’ home field.
But thanks to a lifetime of being a Cougar fan, he feels pretty comfortable in the stadium where he and his Utah teammates will play the much anticipated rivalry game with BYU.
“I’ve been to (LES) a million times, so I definitely feel comfortable,” said Phillips, who is a former downhill ski racer and soccer player who spent a year working out with the Utes before earning a spot on the team this season. “But at the same time, it’s all a mental game. I have to have the same mentality as any kick, going to play anywhere.”
Saturday’s game against BYU (8:15 p.m.) will be his first road game and the first time he’s been to LaVell Edwards Stadium dressed in red.
“My grandparents have season tickets to BYU,” he said, admitting his family didn't invest in Utah season tickets yet because they wanted to see if the walk-on would even earn a spot on the team. “My wife was the Cougarette president two years ago. I’d go down and watch her perform. I know a lot about the rivalry. Growing up in Utah, I don’t know who doesn’t.”
But not everyone can appreciate the rivalry like Phillips and his family. Not only are his grandparents still season ticket holders, both of his parents graduated from BYU, he has a sister attending BYU and another committed to play soccer for the Cougars.
“If you went to my closet, you’d find BYU Cougarette shirts that my wife’s gotten for me,” the Draper native said smiling. “I’ve gone to BYU soccer camps my whole childhood, so I’ve got a ton of BYU soccer balls. I definitely have a strong connection to BYU, and it’s an awesome institution.”
That doesn’t diminish just how badly he wants to help the Utes beat the Cougars in what will be their last meeting until 2016.
“It’s a great opportunity, and it’s a fun week,” Phillips said. “In the end, it’s another football game, and hopefully we come out on top.”
Both Phillips and his BYU counterpart, Justin Sorensen understand the role kickers have played in the rivalry. In the last eight games, six of the contests have been decided by a touchdown or less.
From the 1993 55-yard field goal made by Chris Yergensen that gave Utah its famous 34-31 victory to the 1998 BYU win that ended with Ute kicker Ryan Kaneshiro’s 32-yard field goal attempt bouncing off the upright, both kickers know the role they play can make them a hero or a goat.
Sorensen grew up a BYU fan, but he also grew up playing football and was one of the state’s most heralded kickers, even setting multiple state records, as he helped Bingham High win an early season meeting with rival Alta en route to a 5A state title in 2006.
He also knows how it feels to come up short. In last year’s crazy finish, he attempted a 51-yard field goal that was blocked. Because his teammate JD Falslev picked up the ball and began running toward the end zone, the game wasn’t over despite the zeros on the clock. So when Utah fans rushed the field in celebration, the Utes were assessed a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct and BYU got another shot at a field goal — 15 yards closer to the uprights.
BYU switched kickers and Riley Stephenson’s attempt hit the felt upright, which gave Utah the 24-21 victory.
Knowing the risks and understanding the pressure, there is still nothing Sorensen or Phillips would enjoy more than being called onto the field in a game-deciding situation.
"I would love it. I'm feeling confident with the way I'm kicking right now and for it to come down to that would be so exciting,” said Sorensen. “Those are the kind of moments you live for as a kicker. That's the situation you always hope to be in, so I'd love that."
Phillips echoes those sentiments.
“There is no real bad situation in my mind,” Phillips said. “If it’s a game-winner or a 17-yard chip-shot with a weird angle, hopefully we’ll practice all of those this week.”
UTAH NOTES: The Utes have won the last three rivalry games, including a 54-10 decision at LaVell Edwards Stadium in 2011. In 19 years with Kyle Whittingham on the coaching staff, Utah is 12-7 against BYU — including a 5-3 mark in his tenure as the head coach. The Utes were just 2-13 against the Cougars over a 15-year period prior to his arrival on the hill. Travis Wilson’s 142 yards rushing against Oregon State were the most by a Utah quarterback since Floyd Hodge netted 179 against Wyoming in 1979 and the first 100-yard game since Brett Ratliff had 112 in his first start against BYU in 2005.
BYU NOTES: BYU wide receiver Cody Hoffman needs three touchdowns, 475 yards and 17 receptions to become the school's all-time leader in each of those categories. Both the Cougars and Utes will wear their home jerseys Saturday, with BYU donning its royal blue uniforms. Over the past 15 games, BYU's defense has allowed only seven rushing touchdowns to rank No. 3 nationally among all teams over that stretch. Only Michigan State and Notre Dame have allowed fewer. Since 2010, when coach Bronco Mendenhall took over the defense, the Cougars have held 25 out of 36 teams to under 300 yards of total offense. In those 25 games, BYU owns a 19-6 record.
Contributing: Dirk Facer, Jeff Call and Brandon Gurney
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