Utah-BYU: Thanks to kickers, rivalry has legs
Mitch Payne says he has "moved on" and "hardly ever" thinks about the ending to the 2010 Utah-BYU football game, but the former BYU kicker acknowledges he will never forget that second thud he heard a millisecond after the football left his right foot.
"A horrible feeling," said Payne, now an administrator at a health clinic in Ogden.
Utah's Brandon Burton streaked in and got a hand on the ball, preserving Utah's 17-16 win on the last play of the game.
That was just one of the many times where kickers usually among the most anonymous and non-athletic players on a team have played a major role in the outcome of the rivalry game the past decade.
Because the Utes (2-1) and Cougars (1-1) appear to be evenly matched again for Saturday's 8:15 p.m. renewal of one of the fiercest rivalries in college football at LaVell Edwards Stadium, look for the spotlight to shine again on the kickers, Utah's Andy Phillips and BYU's Justin Sorensen.
"The four years that I was there at BYU, three of the four games were really close," Payne said Wednesday. "The kicking game played a big part in every game. Every single point really matters."
Sorensen knows all about that. In last year's crazy finish that resulted in a 24-21 Utah win, his chance to tie the game as the clock was about to expire was scuttled when his former Bingham High School teammate, Star Lotulelei, blocked his attempt. After BYU got a do-over because Utah fans stormed the field and incurred a penalty, senior Riley Stephenson's attempt struck the left upright and fell harmlessly away.
Now a senior, Sorensen would love to get another shot to hit a game-winner after a sore back led to a dreadful 2012 season, which is part of the reason why Stephenson, the punter, was called on for the second attempt.
"I am feeling confident in the way I am kicking right now," Sorensen said. "For it to come down to that would be so exciting. Those are the kinds of moments you live for as a kicker. That's the situation you hope to be in. And so I would love that."
Utah's Phillips, the former U.S. Ski Team member who made a clutch 41-yarder in overtime against Oregon State last week, would also savor that opportunity to deliver the game-winner and not just because he's married to a former Cougarette and grew up cheering for BYU. He has put himself in the same position BYU kickers were in last year at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"I am feeling very confident," he said. "â¦ I was standing on the sidelines last year when they made those attempts. I have gone to those spots and made field goals just so I would have a reference of what they were feeling there and what it was like to kick."
Phillips and Sorensen are both 5 for 5 on field goal attempts this season. Sorensen is 5 for 5 on PATs and Phillips is 19 for 19.
Watching last year's game on television, Payne said he "definitely felt for them" as the kicks were blocked and then just inches off-target. As for the seemingly unfair notion that the other players do all the hard work for nearly 60 minutes, only to have the intense games settled by a kicker, he said that's just the nature of the sport.
He made sure he felt a part of the team, and earned his teammates' trust, by joining every workout, every practice session.
And really, after years of BYU domination, the rivalry was kick-started in 1993 by a kicker, Utah's Chris Yergensen. His 55-yarder in the last minute gave the Utes a 34-31 win in Provo.
If someone kicks a game-winner Saturday, "No doubt, it is going to be a super-humongous memory," said Yergensen, now a history teacher in El Dorado Hills, Calif., and a private kicking coach.
Yergensen recently recalled that after making the go-ahead kick with 25 seconds left, he just hoped it would hold up, because "BYU is known for the miracles."
The 2003 and 2009 rivalry games were also impacted greatly by kickers, as Utah's Bryan Borreson accounted for the game's only points in Utah's 3-0 win in 2003 and Utah's Joe Phillips' fifth field goal in 2009 gave the Utes a 23-20 lead in overtime.
Reporters Lya Wodraska and Kurt Kragthorpe contributed to this story Kickers' roles in recent games
2012 Utah 24, BYU 21
Utah's Star Lotulelei blocks Justin Sorensen's attempt, but BYU is given a second chance when the crowd storms the field. Riley Stephenson's kick hits the upright.
2010 Utah 17, BYU 16
Utah's Brandon Burton blocks Mitch Payne's 42-yard attempt as time expires.
2009 BYU 26, Utah 23 (OT)
Joe Phillips' fifth field goal, a 29-yarder, gives the Utes a 23-20 lead in overtime, but Max Hall's 25-yard touchdown pass to Andrew George wins it for the Cougars.
2003 Utah 3, BYU 0
Bryan Borreson kicks a 41-yard field goal with 4:13 left in the first half for the only points of the game on a bitter, cold, snowy day at LaVell Edwards Stadium
1998 BYU 26, Utah 24
Utah cuts a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter to two, only to see Ryan Kaneshiro's 32-yard field goal attempt carom off the right goalpost.
1993 Utah 34, BYU 31
After missing two shorter field goals earlier in the game, Chris Yergensen boots a 55-yarder, the longest of his career, in the final minute to give Utah its first win in Provo in 21 years.
Utah at BYU
Saturday, 8:15 p.m.