SALT LAKE CITY — BYU led almost all the way until Utah came racing back for a thrilling 35-27 win, its eighth straight over the Cougars, in Rice-Eccles Stadium late Saturday night.
The game was a dramafest that ended with nervous Ute faithful elated and ecstatic after wondering what in the heck was going on for three and a half quarters.
Utah's thrilling comeback, or BYU's colossal choke. Take your pick.
Now comes a week where many will say Utah didn’t want to be there; there were bigger things next week in Santa Clara playing Washington; Utah should cancel the game; it is not needed. Easy to say when sitting on an 8-0 win streak. On the other side, it could be said order was restored in the world.
People who argue Utah and BYU should not play a football game every year — or ever — should talk to the players. Or just watch. These games are classic.
They should talk to Corbin Kaufusi, BYU’s sack leader who will undergo surgery on Monday and wasn’t expected to play in Saturday night's rivalry game.
Until he did.
Kaufusi represents myriad over the decade who’ve won and lost a game to BYU or to Utah in this long-storied series. You cannot take away the experience of a Morgan Scalley, Steve Tate, John Beck, Chris Yergensen or Scott Mitchell. It is forever imprinted on their souls and has become a part of who they are.
Two weeks ago, before Senior Night and BYU’s home finale, it was announced that Kaufusi’s season was over. He came out in a boot and stood on the sidelines while teammates beat New Mexico State 45-10. He would have surgeries as soon as possible after the Utah game.
Kaufusi had played with a series of injuries since the Utah State game. The week after getting hurt against the Aggies, he had a pair of sacks against Hawaii, and 8.5 to lead the team this year.
Included in Kaufusi’s medical report was a 40 percent torn triceps muscle in his right arm, a broken finger and torn ligaments in his ankle. The ankle and arm will require surgery. On Monday, Kaufusi will undergo the surgeon’s knife. The thinking was, this would give him time to recover and prepare for the NFL Combine in February.
Thing is, there was this final game looming, BYU’s visit to Rice-Eccles to play the Pac-12 South champion Utes. The more Kaufusi thought about it, the more it bugged him that he would not play against Utah. Heavy underdogs, he didn’t care. He wanted to play. He approached his father, former BYU and Utah defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi, and told him what he was thinking.
“I think I want to try, see where I can help, see what I can do,” he told his father.
This was vintage Corbin. All his BYU career he’d given his body to the football and basketball team, whatever role, whatever time, wherever he was needed. His dad and older brother Bronson played in this game, so had most all of his uncles, and they wore both red and blue.
He got in on BYU’s second defensive series and tackled Ute QB Jason Shelley. He then played consistently as BYU’s defense shut out Utah 20-0 in the first half.
“He put some pressure on his foot and tried to run. I asked him if he was sure about this,” said Steve. “When he decided to suit up, he was just looking for a role, maybe come in on some passing downs or something.”
On Monday, Corbin will decide which surgery, his ankle, his tricep muscle in his arm, or an operation to straighten up his pinky finger and insert some pins. He’s been banged-up most of the season, playing hurt. They put that custom brace on his elbow and arm after the Utah State game and he’s just been going.”
Steve told him, “Hey, man, it's your call. You are the one that will have a feeling about what you can tolerate and what you can’t. He’s been having a lot of treatment.”
Kaufusi ran onto the field on offense as a split tight end on a fourth-and-1 at Utah’s goal line in the third quarter in a new formation with Austin Kafentzis at QB. He pitched to Matt Hadley for an easy TD run to put BYU up 27-7 with 5:38 to play in the quarter.
Just before the third quarter, Kaufusi went down on a run by Shelley. Medical personnel came in to attend. A few minutes later, he walked off the field on his own power.
He returned on the next defensive series.66 comments on this story
On Utah’s go-ahead TD, a run by Armand Shyne, Kaufusi had Shyne stopped and could not hold on at the 3. Kaufusi was BYU’s second-leading tackler in this game.
Tweeted former BYU captain Cameron Jensen, “Kaufusi choosing to play and giving as much as he has tonight in a college football atmosphere where most players choose to sit out will be a memory that sticks with me when I think about this rivalry.”
This game lives because of the players.
It belongs to them, regardless of winners or losers.