When Brigham Young kicker Riley Stephenson’s kick clanked off the left upright it was 11:58 p.m. on Saturday, seconds removed from one of the wackiest sequences in rivalry history — and two minutes from Sunday.
“If it goes overtime, do we have to delay and go on Monday, or what?” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham wondered after the Utes held on to win, 24-21 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
BYU refuses to play on Sundays for religious reasons, but in a game that saw a torrid comeback, a thousand fans cleared from the field twice and two missed field goals that could have forced overtime, Whittingham’s scenario fit right in.
“I can’t describe that,” Utah quarterback Jon Hays said. “I’m going to remember that until I’m 85 years old with Alzheimer’s.”
Not that Hays really had any idea what was going on when BYU quarterback Riley Nelson threw an incomplete pass as time seemingly expired. Hays was mobbed by the student section.
Officials ruled that Nelson’s pass hit the ground with one second remaining, giving the Cougars one last (“last” with an asterisk, of course) shot at a 51-yard field goal. It was blocked, but as the student section once again stormed the field, a penalty flag was thrown against the fans because the ball was still in play. The penalty moved the ball 15 yards, giving Stephenson an opportunity from 36 yards out.
“We should be 4-1,” Whittingham said. “We won that thing three times.”
Whittingham seemed bewildered after the game by the flag that gave the Cougars their second field-goal attempt.
“In all my experience in football,” he said. “That’s a no-call, the game’s over. And then we lined up and did it again. End result was what we wanted. But drama. A lot of drama at the end there.”
The finish was similar to 2010, when Utah’s Brandon Burton blocked a last-second field-goal try by the Cougars in Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Utah cornerback Moe Lee, who had a 47-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the third quarter, compared the experience Saturday to that night, but not even that was quite right.
“This was the best atmosphere I ever played in in my life,” he said. “And I finally felt the Utah-BYU experience for the first time.”
With the rivalry taking a two-year hiatus in 2014 and 2015, some have expressed concerns that the rivalry game has lost meaning. It certainly hasn’t lost drama. Not yet anyway.
“It wouldn’t have been the rivalry game if it had just ended neatly,” Whittingham said.
That said, the Utes don’t have a lot of time to savor the rivalry win. The Pac-12 opener against Arizona State looms this Saturday night in Tempe. The Sun Devils, who started 2-0, lost for the first time over the weekend at Missouri.
ASU beat Utah 35-14 last year at Rice-Eccles. After leading the Sun Devils 14-10 in the third quarter, the Utes turned the ball over on three straight possessions, all resulting in Arizona State touchdowns.
P Utah at Arizona State, 8 p.m. TV • Pac-12 Network
BYU’s final drive
First-and-10 at BYU 8 • Riley Nelson completes 5-yard pass to Michael Alisa.
Second-and-5 at BYU 13 • Nelson completes 8-yard pass to Cody Hoffman.
First-and-10 at BYU 21 • Utah’s Reggie Topps sacks Nelson.
Fourth-and-12 at BYU 19 • After two incompletions, Nelson completes a 47-yard pass to Hoffman.
Second-and-10 at Utah 34 • Nelson throws incomplete pass to J.D. Falslev with eight seconds left. Clock shows 0.0 and fans rush the field. Officials determine there is one second left in the game.
Third-and-10 at Utah 34 • Justin Sorensen’s 51-yard field goal attempt is blocked by Star Lotulelei, but fans once again rush the field, this time while the ball is still in play. The result is a 15-yard penalty.
First-and-10 at Utah 19 • On untimed play, Riley Stephenson’s 36-yard field goal misses off the left upright. Fans storm the field a third and final time.