Provo • Yahoo! sports compiled a list last summer of the 25 most devastating losses in the past 25 years of Notre Dame football, calling the 21-14 loss in 1994 to BYU the sixth-worst loss in that era, just behind a 1993 loss to Boston College that ended the Irish’s hopes for a national championship that year.
Imagine the repercussions, then, if the two-touchdown underdog Cougars somehow manage to upset the No. 5-ranked, BCS-dreaming Irish this Saturday.
“Irish eyes are crying,” wrote the The Salt Lake Tribune after that 1994 game in front of 59,075 stunned Irish fans.
Saturday’s kickoff is at 1:30 p.m. MDT, and once again the seventh meeting between inconsistent BYU (4-3) and undefeated Notre Dame (6-0) looks like a mismatch, just as it did 18 years ago. The Irish own a 4-2 lead in the series, and the average score is 33-19 in Notre Dame’s favor.
That 21-14 win by BYU, 5-1 entering the game, was the only close contest among the four that have been played in South Bend, and came after the Irish walloped BYU 42-16 at Notre Dame Stadium in 1992 and 45-20 in 1993 in Provo.
But what a win it was for the Cougars and legendary coach LaVell Edwards, who just last summer recalled it as one of the most memorable of his 29-year career.
“That was a very big victory for us,” Edwards said that mid-October Saturday, accentuating the fourth word of that sentence. “We have had a few of them over the years, and this has to rank right up there.”
Many longtime observers point to that loss, and a 30-11 loss the previous week at Boston College, as the beginning of Notre Dame’s downward spiral, saying the Irish have never fully returned to their glory days.
“We’ve made some teams awfully happy in the past few weeks,” was about all Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz had to say after the loss.
But then-defensive coordinator Bob Davie, who would succeed Holtz two years later, was more blunt.
“It’s like a nightmare,” Davie said. “It is devastating. There is no way to hide that or downplay that. This is a devastating loss.”
Trailing most of the game, the Cougars came up with a huge goal-line stand toward the end of the third quarter after a nine-minute, 64-yard Irish drive gave them a first-and-goal at the BYU 3. BYU’s Chad Lewis blocked a field-goal attempt after Ron Powlus was sacked by Jon Pollock.
The Cougars then drove for the go-ahead touchdown, a 2-yard run by Jamal Willis, early in the fourth quarter. Hema Heimuli caught a two-point conversion pass for the game’s final points.
“Nobody gave us a chance in this game, but we believed in ourselves, and that’s all that matters,” said BYU quarterback John Walsh, a junior who would leave after the season for the NFL. He completed 17 of 30 passes for 216 yards, but the Cougars’ defense was given the most credit for the upset of the No. 17 Irish. Powlus was sacked four times, and BYU forced two turnovers.
Willis rushed for 75 yards and caught five passes for 83 yards. Edwards said the win was significant for BYU because it showed the Cougars could match up physically with a national power and run the ball as effectively as they could pass it.
The next day, Notre Dame dropped out of the national polls for the first time in eight years, and BYU joined the Top 25 for the first time that year. Holtz’s job security was questioned, and Notre Dame finished with a 6-5-1 record.
“We talked about it all week [that] we’re not playing the Four Horsemen, we’re not playing Joe Montana, we’re not playing ghosts or history, we’re just playing football,” BYU’s Tim Nowatzke, a native of nearby Michigan City, Ind., told The Tribune that day. “That’s what we did. We believed in ourselves and played the game.”
Past BYU-Notre Dame games
Year Location Result
1992 South Bend N. Dame 42, BYU 16
1993 Provo N. Dame 45, BYU 20
1994 South Bend BYU 21, N. Dame 14
2003 South Bend N. Dame 33, BYU14
2004 Provo BYU 20, N. Dame 17
2005 South Bend N. Dame 49, BYU 23