SALT LAKE CITY — This is it for a while?
Aw, just when it was getting interesting.
For the second time in three years, the Utah-BYU game went down to a final kick. If you want to get technical, this time it took two kicks. The teams won't be doing this again in Salt Lake until 2016.
It may take that long to get things settled down at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
There have been heroes and goats in the series, but on Saturday the crowd was nearly to blame. Utah appeared to have blocked a Justin Sorensen field goal to preserve a 24-21 win. But wait. It wasn't all that simple. The mad crowd rushed the field, a second too early. The refs called a penalty — the ball was still in play — and the Cougars had another shot.
That time Riley Stephenson hit the upright and the game finally ended at the witching hour.
Shades of Ryan Kaneshiro. The game was similar to the 1998 game, when Utah's Kaneshiro clanged an easy kick off the upright, giving BYU the win.
At least by outward appearances, most of the game seemed to be pretty much about football. Maybe this thing was mellowing after 116 years. But by the time it had ended, players were huffing and woofing as usual.
Truth is, both schools have spent considerable effort trying to make this thing more civil. It didn't always work. Remember the year the BYU fan tackled a Utah cheerleader? The year Max Hall said his parents got beered by some Utah fans? Bad stuff happens.
In an effort to make the Cougars' visit more pleasant, Utah A.D. Chris Hill made a public plea for Utah fans to be, well, nice this year.
By most indications, it actually worked.
As intense as the game was, as wild the crowd, there was the brooding knowledge that the game at Rice-Eccles might have been a sort of fading flower. You know the details: BYU and Utah probably won't play every year. The current theory-of-the-month is that Utah will soon begin playing BYU and Utah State on alternating years. No more of this annual stuff.
There was actually a slight air of melancholy mixed with the usual fervor prior to Saturday's kickoff. The teams play in Provo next year, but Utah won't host the Cougars again until 2016. After that, who knows? It could become a once-in-a-decade deal, though both A.D.'s say they're committed to keeping the rivalry alive.
They vary on what "alive" means.
Predictably, the early going featured some jitters. Utah kicker Coleman Petersen's low 37-yard try was blocked in the first half. Not that BYU was better. Sorensen missed on a 37-yarder in the early second quarter. But Petersen followed by making a 48-yard kick in the third quarter for a 10-7 Utah lead.
Clearly, this game was personal to Kyle Whittingham.
Utah vs. BYU?
Yeah, that too.
In Whittingham's eighth year as coach at Utah, he once again rallied his team. It's true he beat a longtime rival on Saturday after losing the previous week to another old rival — USU. But it's more than that. Just ask Tulsa, Navy, Cal, San Diego State and Georgia Tech, all teams Utah beat on the rebound.
To say Saturday's win was only about BYU would be to undersell Whittingham. Give the guy a win and he's good. Give him a loss and he's downright offended. When he lost a shocker to New Mexico in 2005 the Utes rallied to beat BYU, then win its bowl game. In 2007 he lost to BYU but beat Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl. Same in 2009 after a BYU loss, followed by a bowl win over Cal.
Last year Whittngham's team started 3-4, losing its first four Pac-12 games, then won five of its next six.
Now he's back on track, barely.
At least on the field, it seems to be as hot as ever.
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