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Cougars renew old rivalry on Islands

Published: Thursday, July 2 2015 5:24 p.m. MDT

FTB vs Hawaii @ Lavell Edwards Stadium September 6, 2002 (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) FTB vs Hawaii @ Lavell Edwards Stadium September 6, 2002 (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

PROVO — The last time BYU played Hawaii at Aloha Stadium, one decade ago, it was a euphoric day for the Warriors — and a miserable day for the Cougars.

On Dec. 8, 2001, BYU was undefeated and ranked No. 9 in the country, but was playing without injured running back Luke Staley, and reeling after having been snubbed earlier in the week by the Bowl Championship Series, relegating the Cougars to the Liberty Bowl.

Hawaii, meanwhile, had a winning record, but no bowl game to play in at the end of the season.

The result? The Warriors, who scored two special teams touchdowns and capitalized on seven Cougar turnovers, hammered BYU, 72-45, touching off a wild celebration for Hawaii players, coaches and fans.

At least one Warrior player said it might have been the biggest win in school history. Linebacker Chris Brown said, "The governor should declare this a holiday. From now on this should be called 'Beat BYU Day.' "

Ex-BYU coach LaVell Edwards, left, talks with current Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Ex-BYU coach LaVell Edwards, left, talks with current Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

"We came out and beat Goliath," said Hawaii wide receiver Ashley Lelie. "We beat up the bully."

Those statements tell you everything you need to know about the series between BYU and Hawaii.

Needless to say, that was a day that lives in infamy for the Cougar football program.

"This was their bowl game and they came out and pulled out all the stops," said then-BYU center Jason Scukanec. "We were having a Cinderella season and I guess it strikes midnight for every Cinderella. If it was easy to go 13-0, everybody would be doing it."

While the two starting quarterbacks in that game — the Cougars' Brandon Doman and the Warriors' Nick Rolovich — are now the respective teams' offensive coordinators, that was 10 years ago. Most of the current BYU and Hawaii players were just kids back then.

Tulane's #3 Jeff Sanchez raises his hands as he tries to push BYU's #11 Brandon Doman out of bounds before Doman can score. (Scott G. Winterton, All) Tulane's #3 Jeff Sanchez raises his hands as he tries to push BYU's #11 Brandon Doman out of bounds before Doman can score. (Scott G. Winterton, All)

Still, when BYU and Hawaii renew their rivalry Saturday (5:30 p.m., MT, ESPN2) at Aloha Stadium, it's expected to be a physical, intense battle.

The Warriors (6-6) need to beat the Cougars to be bowl eligible and avoid a losing season. Beyond that, it's BYU versus Hawaii.

"This was a huge rivalry in the 1980s and 1990s," said Ferd Lewis, who has covered Hawaii football for the Honolulu Advertiser since the early 1970s. "It's kind of legacy thing, something that's handed down and fathers tell their sons about. It's still something to look forward to. There's also a nostalgia from the past that hangs over everything."

Former BYU coaching legend LaVell Edwards took his teams to the Islands many times during his 29-year tenure, though he retired one year before the 2001 debacle.

"It's always a big rivalry," he said this week. "The game always meant a lot. A lot of times, it had championship ramifications associated with it."

From 1978-1988, the Cougars won 10 consecutive games in the series, with all but two of those played in Honolulu. Then, in 1989, under new coach Bob Wagner, Hawaii, implementing a spread offense, ended that streak with a dominating 56-14 victory.

"It was like they were dropping guys out of the sky catching the ball," Edwards recalled.

The following year, the Warriors proved it was no fluke. They destroyed the Cougars again — on the same day BYU quarterback Ty Detmer won the Heisman Trophy — by a score of 59-28.

Yet, despite those dismal defeats, Edwards has fond memories of those games in Hawaii, including an amazing left-footed punt by Jim McMahon, and a game-saving, leaping tackle by Kyle Morrell, who jumped over the line of scrimmage to tackle the quarterback near the goal line during BYU's run to its 1984 national championship.

"Some of the best plays I ever saw happened over there," Edwards said. "Most of the games were tight defensive battles."

Prior to that 2001 game, BYU had beaten Hawaii 17 out of 20 times, with 11 of those victories coming in Honolulu. Besides the fact the Cougars dominated the series for so long, the rivalry was fanned by the flames of familiarity.

With a strong population of members of the LDS Church in Hawaii, and with a high number of Polynesians from Hawaii populating BYU's roster over the years, this game has lasting implications.

Why is the rivalry so important in Hawaii?

"Some of it's because BYU in the past, and even now, has had Polynesians from the Island," said current Cougar defensive back Simote Vea, who hails from Hau'ula and remembers cheering for Hawaii in the '01 game. "So when we go back, it's kind of a rivalry between us Hawaiians (at BYU) versus the Hawaiians that stayed there. That's why it's a big game. It's a rivalry game for them.

"Where I live there's a big pool of members (of the LDS Church). We know a lot of the members on their team and they know us. The church influence has a big part of it … There will be a lot cheering for both sides."

Lewis said when Norm Chow was BYU's offensive coordinator during the 1980s and 1990s, he had resounding success recruiting Hawaiian players to Provo.

"With those players coming back to play made the game more special," he said. "Those players were able to come back and make a statement. There was a lot of familiarity between the players and coaches."

Then, the decision by BYU and seven other schools to abandon Hawaii and the rest of the Western Athletic Conference in 1998 to form their own conference didn't sit well in Honolulu. Fans harbored an animosity toward BYU that found expression after Hawaii's rout of the Cougars in 2001.

That familiarity, and animosity, isn't as strong anymore, but there is interest on both sides to revive the rivalry. The two schools have signed a deal to play almost every year through 2020.

"We look forward to renewing this rivalry. It's been a long time," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. "I know at one point this was a significant game for both schools. Possibly we could develop that into a game like that. This will be one of the first steps."

Mendenhall also discussed the recruiting and scheduling benefits that come with playing at Hawaii.

"We're looking for the most intriguing matchups possible in scheduling. It made a lot of sense," said Mendenhall, who explained he would like to play Utah in the regular-season finale every year, but that Hawaii would be his second choice. "I would love to have the last game of the season have something of special significance before your bowl game. I think that's good for college football."

For now, however, the scheduled meetings between the two teams will take place in September, October and early November.

This year's showdown is the regular-season finale, sparking memories of that Hawaii victory 10 years ago. BYU did exact a measure of revenge the following year with a 35-32 win in Provo, but it's that 2001 game that had the biggest impact.

"It led to the creation of the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, which we have now," Lewis said. "It was big because it was the last one played here in the series, and it was a big one to go out that way. It was a boost for the program. It was huge in several ways."

Starting this year, the Hawaii-BYU rivalry, in some form, has returned.

Email: jeffc@desnews.com

BYU VS. HAWAII IN THE ISLANDS

The Cougars and Warriors have staged several memorable battles over the years. Here's a glance at some of those games played at Aloha Stadium:

1974

In coach LaVell Edwards' first game at Hawaii, the Warriors kicked five field goals to defeat the Cougars, 15-13.

1981

In a contest that would essentially decide the Western Athletic Conference championship, BYU edged Hawaii, 13-3.

1984

During the Cougars' national championship run in 1984, one of their toughest games came against Hawaii, where BYU linebacker Kyle Morrell made what is considered the best defensive play in school history. He dove over the line of scrimmage late in the game to prevent a touchdown and help preserve an 18-13 victory.

1989

Hawaii snapped a 10-game losing streak to BYU by drilling the Cougars, 56-14.

1990

On the same day that BYU quarterback Ty Detmer won the Heisman Trophy, the Warriors blasted the Cougars again, 59-28.

1994

In the season-opener, BYU held on for a 13-12 victory over the Warriors.

2001

Going into this game, BYU was undefeated and ranked in the top 10. But it was playing without running back Luke Staley, who had won the Doak Walker Award earlier in the week. For Hawaii, this was like a bowl game, and the Warriors crushed the Cougars, 72-45.Cougars on the air

BYU (8-3) AT HAWAII (6-6)

Saturday, 5:30 p.m. MT

Aloha Stadium, Honolulu

TV: ESPN2

Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM

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