PROVO — During halftime of the BYU-San Diego basketball game last January, Cougar football players Kyle Van Noy and Cody Hoffman made their first public appearance together after deciding to forgo the National Football League draft and return to BYU for one more season.
Van Noy and Hoffman were honored during intermission at the Marriott Center, and Van Noy carried the Poinsettia Bowl trophy. Before they walked off the court, Van Noy addressed the crowd, thanked the fans for their support, then offered two final words — "Beat Utah!" — that inspired the Cougar faithful to a raucous cheer.
For Van Noy, Hoffman and the rest of the seniors on the roster, beating the Utes is of utmost importance.
BYU hasn’t defeated its archrival since 2009, when Andrew George scored the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
The Cougar seniors will have one more shot at redemption Saturday (8:15 p.m. MDT, ESPN2).
“I think about it. I’m a competitor, and I don’t like losing,” Van Noy said this week. “I’m 0-3 (against Utah) and I want to be 1-3. That’s better than 0-4.”
Only a handful of Cougar players know how it feels to beat the Utes. Senior defensive back Mike Hague was part of the 2006 “Beck-to-Harline” win in Salt Lake City and the 2009 victory; senior defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna and senior linebackers Austen Jorgensen and Tyler Beck were on the team for the 2007 “fourth-and-18” triumph in Provo; and junior Craig Bills and junior wide receiver Brett Thompson played in the 2009 game.
“It’s been awhile since we’ve had the feeling of victory over those guys,” Manumaleuna said of the rivalry game. "We’ve got to prepare. We have to do a lot more extra stuff. This is not another week for us.”
One senior that will not have the opportunity to face Utah is senior linebacker Spencer Hadley, who is serving a five-game suspension due to an Honor Code violation.
Several members of BYU’s coaching staff know what it’s like to beat Utah, including George, who has been a graduate assistant the past couple of years for the Cougars.
Asked if it is strange that it’s been so long since BYU has defeated Utah, George replied, “Strange? No. Frustrating is more the term. We’ve had some unlucky breaks. We’ve had some things not go our way.”
Van Noy has been around the rivalry since 2010, and despite all of the successes he has achieved in his career, a victory over Utah is one of the things that has eluded him.
"There’s no lying. I am 0-3 against them, and I want to win," Van Noy said after BYU’s 40-21 victory over Texas on Sept. 7. “It is plain and simple: I want to beat them. They don’t like us, and we don’t like them. And that’s OK. It is going to be a bloodbath, and we are going to show up for it."
Sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill said the program needs a win over Utah.
“It’s huge,” he said. “Not only do I want (to win) for myself, but I want it for our team, our seniors. I’ve had several conversations with Kyle about how bad he wants this game. I’m going to do everything I possibly can to win it for those guys, and coach (Bronco) Mendenhall. It’s a huge motivating factor for me.”
The significance of Saturday’s game is magnified even more considering the rivalry will go on hiatus until 2016. Seniors aside, for many underclassmen, this will be their last chance to play in the rivalry game.
“This year is a little different because we don’t play them for the next two years,” Hill said. “This will be the last time I have a chance to play them. So it’s big."
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company