Five in twenty: The greatest games from the last two decades

The Utes and Cougars have been meeting for football every year since Warren Harding was roaming the oval office.

The series has been frocked with as much controversy, drama and standout moments as the aforementioned national patriarch, but much of that history is buried deep in the vault of memory.

Therefore, The Chronicle now presents the standout moments of the series, but only those from the last 20 years. The five chosen games were either high in stakes, had close, exciting outcomes or both. In an epic series like Utah vs. BYU, it isn’t hard to find moments that stick out.

5. Nov. 21, 1998

BYU 26, Utah 24

It was the game that turned “doink” into a four-letter word to Ute fans. The two schools both came in battling for a potential WAC Mountain Division title, and the game lived up to the billing. Oft-injured Ute starting quarterback Darnell Arcenaux missed the game with a separated shoulder, turning over the signal-calling duties to the much-maligned Jonathan Crosswhite.

BYU led by nine late in the game, when Ute receiver Daniel Jones returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown with only 2:41 remaining. The Ute defense held stout, and Crosswhite was given the ball in his own territory with time running out.

Crosswhite hit Jones for a 43-yard gain that put the Utes on the Cougar 24-yard line and in position for a potential winning score. But in the blink of an eye, Jones went from hero to goat by committing a flamboyantly excessive penalty to push the Utes back 15 yards. After the game, Jones would excuse his actions by saying “I had to give a little something to my boys watching back home,” but after all was said and done, Ute fans wouldn’t see it his way.

Crosswhite managed to get the Utes down to the 15-yard line with just seconds remaining, making way for freshman walk-on kicker Ryan Kaneshiro. The 32-yard field goal looked good when it left his foot but hooked right at the last instant, nailing both the goalpost and the coffin on any chances of winning the WAC.

4. Nov. 20, 2004

Utah 52, BYU 21

The final score shows a blowout, but in reality, the game was back-and-forth until pretty late in the game.

Utah came in 10-0, poised to bust the BCS. It had been a magical year under soon-to-leave head coach Urban Meyer, and with ESPN’s “College Gameday” parked outside and a national TV audience watching, it was the perfect stage to punctuate a perfect season.

The Cougars, on the other hand, were just trying to salvage a once-promising year and save their once-promising coach’s career. At 5-5, coming off a wrenching loss at home to New Mexico, BYU still could qualify for a bowl if the team managed to knock off the No. 5 Utes.

The Utes led by only seven at halftime, as quarterback Alex Smith suffered through his worst game of the season. He was picked off twice in the game (half of his season total), but still managed to scrape together a good enough game to get the victory.

In the second half, BYU was plagued by turnovers and mistakes. Cougar receiver Antwaun Harris fumbled a completion early in the third quarter, which was returned then 12 yards by Ute cornerback Bo Nagahi for a touchdown. Later in the half, the Cougars were driving and attempted a trick play with freshman receiver Austin Collie trying to pass deep to Todd Watkins. But the throw was short and fell into the arms of Eric Weddle.

The Utes quickly capitalized, as Steve Savoy took a reverse 92-yards to paydirt, giving the Utes an insurmountable lead, capping a perfect season and garnering an invitation to the Fiesta Bowl.

3. Nov. 17, 2001

BYU 24, Utah 21

It was another game with BCS implications (or at least people thought it did at the time), and it was definitely more exciting than the 2004 affair. BYU came in a perfect 10-0, with dreams of busting through to one of the big bowls. The Utes were finishing up a decent season as well but were nowhere near as highly touted as the vaunted Cougars, led by quarterback Brandon Doman and soon-to-be Doak Walker Award winner Luke Staley.

As the game neared its end, it appeared that the Utes were going to steal one in Provo and quash the Cougars’ undefeated dreams. Ron McBride’s Utes led by 11 points with less than four minutes to play and just needed to keep moving the ball to pull off the upset.

But the big-play Staley awoke, steamrolling for two quick touchdowns, giving the Cougars a three-point lead. The Utes got the ball back and drove down the field, only to have a Lance Rice pass get picked off by BYU cornerback Jernaro Gilford on the Cougar 30-yard line in the final minute. BYU’s perfect season would come to an end two weeks later when the Cougars were blown out at Hawaii.

2. Nov. 20, 1993

Utah 34, BYU 31

34-31, a score that instantly became inserted into the lexicon of the rivalry’s history. The Utes hadn’t won at Cougar Stadium since 1971 but came into the day with a 6-5 record and a lot of confidence after a near miss in Salt Lake City in 1992’s rivalry game.

It was a back-and-forth affair all day in frigid Provo, as U quarterback Mike McCoy threw for 434 yards and Jamal Anderson rumbled for 146 on the ground. With less than a minute left, the Utes faced fourth down at the Cougar 38-yard line with the game knotted at 31.

McBride surprised a lot of people when he called the field-goal unit onto the field. Kicker Chris Yergensen had shanked his way into Ute infamy the previous season, when he missed a 20-yard field goal that would have tied Washington State late in the Copper Bowl.

But this was the day for Yergensen’s salvation. The kick came off clean and hooked gently left to nestle into the net just inside the right upright. The Ute bench erupted, and Yergensen had his 55-yard redemption.

1. Nov. 19, 1994

Utah 34, BYU 31

Often overshadowed by the euphoric finish of 1993, the ’94 tilt featured two top-20 teams and a boatload of now-household names including McCoy, Kevin Dyson and Luther Elliss for the Utes and John Walsh, Jamal Willis and Chad Lewis for the Cougs. Buoyed by a late 63-yard Cal Beck kickoff return, McCoy found Charlie Brown for a 20-yard touchdown pass with 56 seconds left, giving the Utes a three-point lead.

Walsh drove the Cougars down the field quickly but was sacked by Elliss on fourth down to seal the second-straight 34-31 victory. Utah went on to the Freedom Bowl, where a late one-handed Dyson touchdown catch capped a 10-2 season, the best in McBride’s coaching tenure.

[email protected]