In the fall of 1957, I was privileged to attend a BYU football game in my hometown of Fresno, California. I was a senior at Bullard High and had followed BYU sports religiously for a number of years.
It would be the only time I rooted against the Fresno State Bulldogs during that season. The Bulldogs featured an outstanding and rugged fullback, Dean Philpott. BYU competed well during the game but wound up on the losing end, 27-14.
That 1957 season was new coach Hal Kopp's second year with BYU. For only the second time in 10 years, the Cougars had a winning record, as chronicled in the BYU Sports Almanac.
BYU's winning ways continued into the next season. When I arrived on the BYU campus for 1958 freshman orientation, the Cougars already had a home victory under their belt, a dominant 29-7 win over the Bulldogs of Fresno State.
The game was highlighted by a 93-yard touchdown run by fullback Weldon Jackson, which was part of a 460-yard rushing performance by the Cougars. At one point in that 1958 season, the Cougars led the nation in rushing offense, with Jackson and halfback Nyle McFarland leading the way.
After those early games in the 1950s, which included two additional losses to the Bulldogs, BYU fans had to wait until 1992 to renew the series, and then the fireworks began.
The 1992 contest featured a quarterback duel, with future NFL Super Bowl champion QB Trent Dilfer facing off against BYU's one-year phenom Ryan Hancock, who started the season as a third stringer but was forced into action by injuries to John Walsh and Steve Clements.
BYU prevailed against the Bulldogs in a back-and-forth emotionally charged contest in Provo, 36-24. The game featured a 77-yard touchdown bomb from Hancock to Eric Drage, and some controversial calls and plays.
It was quite a sight to see a visibly upset Trent Dilfer stomp off the field at the end of the game. He was quite a competitor, and it showed later in his NFL career. Hancock had quite a career too, but it was to be in professional baseball, with a stint as a major league pitcher.
In 1993, Dilfer got revenge with a 48-45 shootout win over the Cougars in Provo. Both teams passed for nearly 500 yards each, and BYU scored four touchdowns in the final quarter, but came up short. Those 1992 and 1993 games were highly entertaining for BYU fans as well as the Bulldog fans who made the trips to Provo.
The 1994 contest was a jewel, as BYU won a thriller in Fresno, 32-30. Star tight end Itula Mili caught a John Walsh pass and secured the ball on his hip, and then thundered down the field 68 yards for a touchdown, which proved to be the game winner for the Cougars.
In 1995, it was a BYU win over Fresno State, with junior college transfer QB Steve Sarkisian setting a BYU pass completion percentage record in a 45-28 victory. Sarkisian completed an astounding 31 of 34 passes, with an amazing 218 QB efficiency rating.
This was a prelude to the 1996 championship season for the Cougars, polished off by a New Year's Day Cotton Bowl win over the Kansas State Wildcats, engineered by Sarkisian.
The Cougars played the Bulldogs only one more time until 2015, and that was a Fresno State win on LDS general conference weekend in 1998. The long-overdue matchup in 2015 resulted in a decisive BYU win, 52-10. QB Tanner Mangum was well on his way to a successful freshman season in relief of Taysom Hill. In this game, no Hail Mary pass was needed to secure the victory, as had happened in the first two games of the season.
Ken Driggs of Mesa, Arizona, is a BYU graduate and served as Cosmo in the ’60s. Contact him at [email protected].