In a rivalry game that meant more to one team than it did to the other, but that ended up accelerating the less-needy outfit toward its real goal, barely, Utah went ahead and did what it does, what it has made a habit of doing, on Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

It beat BYU. And it shaded football in the state red, again.

You knew it would.

You just didn’t know it would happen like this.

The Utes are, and on this occasion were, the better team, by the thin count of 35-27. They were inferior for most of the game, in almost every way. They trailed 13-zip in the first quarter, 20-nothing at the half, 27-7 late in the third.

And then, regaining their form, they ruled the night, storming back to hard-fought victory, their defense stiffening, their offense at last finding rhythm.

It has come to be a fact, reiterated here, that Utah football is superior to BYU football, but not by as much as some of us presumed. There was a whole lot of early trepidation, along with late clutch play, on the part of the Utes. It was simply what happens when these two teams match up against one another. They test one another, they beat the hell out of one another. And at the end, the Cougars hurt from the loss, but hurt more from the truth.

They cannot beat the Utes, even when it seems like they can.

For the Cougars to have had a chance in this game, they had to gain yardage on the ground. For that to happen, football’s basics had to be mastered, the old-time stuff — blocking, grading road, being physical, running hard. All against one of the best run defenses in the country.

Which is what they did for so much of this game, beating and bettering Utah at what it does best. On the other side, BYU’s defense stuffed the Utes’ offense, in a remarkable way. In the first half, BYU gained a total of 247 yards, Utah just 86. The Cougars were crushing the Utes, no other way to say it.

And then, the Utes crushed back.

With about four minutes gone in the third quarter, Utah turned its adversity, along with BYU, on its head. The turn started with a 27-yard pick-6 by Julian Blackmon, cutting the Utes’ deficit to 20-7. It ended with a fourth-quarter touchdown that was just for show.

Through the late going, Jason Shelley found a comfort zone wide enough for him to operate in an effective manner, a manner he never had in that first half, due at least in part to bad protection up front. He spread the ball around down the stretch, enough to win the game, with help from Armand Shyne.

In the third and fourth quarters, the Utes churned yardage, extended drives, finishing four of them. At times, in the cold night, the game took on the appearance of two polar bears fighting over the last slab of meat.

Worthy of a rivalry game, BYU, the smaller bear, honorably did what it could, scaring the bejeebers out of Utah, holding the lead until the 3:02 mark of the fourth quarter. It hurt itself with self-punitive conservative play calls late. And the Utes did the honorable thing, too, by pouncing, by pressing ahead, despite falling behind, coming back with a fury, scoring in waves, beating an opponent that gave it more than it wanted.

A conclusion that is being filled in through eight straight contests now, growing ever closer to certainty, is this: Utah will not lose to BYU. Cannot lose. Come what may, it’s simply not written in the stars.

The Utes deserve the credit for that. Belonging to the Pac-12 has helped in a big way, enhancing recruiting, bringing in numbers of athletes they once could never have attracted. But Utah put itself in a position to be desirable to that league. And now, it is reaping the benefits of what it has sowed.

That’s good for the Utes.

They are the kings of football in Utah. BYU is a tough opponent, always is. But when people along the Wasatch Front and points far beyond these mountains think of LaVell Edwards’ game here, they see it now only one way — as Kyle Whittingham’s game, shaded in red.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.