For BYU football fans, a win over Utah marks the end of rivalry losing streak and a ‘decade of pain’

A lot has happened in the 12 years since Cougars faithful held bragging rights over the Utes.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU fans storm the field as the Brigham Young Cougars defeat the Utah Utes 26-17, at Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo, on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

Provo • No one left.

When a football team is leading by two scores with little more than three minutes left in a game, typically the floodgates open. Streams of fans hustle shoulder to shoulder down the steps and through the stadium corridors toward their cars, more eager to spend a little less time in traffic than bear witness to the final plays.

Not Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Sure, a few trickled out. They were either chased away by the brief but ardent rainstorm at the start of the fourth quarter, or were dressed in Utah red, or both. But most of the 63,470 fans stayed by their seats until the last ball had been snapped in BYU’s 26-17 victory over the Utes. Then they surged forward en masse to join the bedlam erupting at the center of the field.

It had been nine straight games since BYU had taken down Utah in the rivalry that has split Utahns for more than a century. For Cougars fans, that stretch has not just been 12 years of heartache. It hasn’t just been a barrage of barbs from their Utes counterparts. The drought has encompassed and infiltrated large swaths of their lives. And in many ways, the win signified the beginning of a new chapter, or at least served as a marker of time.

Dax Davis, an 8-year-old who slid gleefully around on the wet field postgame, is a living example. He wasn’t even born when the streak started with a 17-16 loss on a blocked field goal attempt in BYU’s 2010 regular-season finale. But the boy, whose middle name is Cougar, was there with his dad to witness something he’s sure he’ll remember “the rest of my life.”

“It was awesome, just beating our biggest rival,” said the third-grader at Herriman Elementary, who has been attending BYU games since he was 1. “I’ve never seen them win [against Utah].”

Cameron Stevens of West Jordan said he felt like he was a kid himself the last time the feat happened, at LES in 2009. The 34-year-old was still in school at BYU and hadn’t yet met his wife.

“My wife was married to someone else,” his buddy Chad Dahlgren, also 34, chimed in.

So much happens in 12 years. For Cougars fans, though, one key thing didn’t.

(Julie Jag | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU fans, from left, Brad Davis, Mark Davis, Dax Cougar Davis, Cameron Stevens and Chad Dahlgren were among those to storm the field at LaVell Edwards Stadium after the Cougars' win over Utah on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. BYU had not beaten Utah in 8-year-old Dax's lifetime.

Perhaps that’s why many felt relief even before they felt joy in the victory. A yoke had been lifted, one that would have been considerably heavier had BYU not come through this time. The teams aren’t scheduled to play again until 2024 and won’t return to Provo until 2025. They could have seen a three-year extension on their misery.

“The streak would have been like a deacon at that point,” BYU senior Trevor Leavitt, 26, said. “It could have held the priesthood.”

Instead, the future is as bright as it has ever been for BYU football.

The school gained considerable clout Friday when it joined the Big 12, the Power Five conference it has been pining for since it became an independent more than a decade ago. On Sunday, many of the school’s faithful no doubt tuned in to watch former Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson, the No. 2 pick in this year’s NFL draft, make his debut as the starter for the New York Jets. And on Sunday, the Cougars, now 2-0 — with both wins coming over Pac-12 programs — joined the nation’s ranked teams, landing at No. 23 in the AP Top 25.

Provo’s Greg Roberts, a season-ticket holder for more than 50 years, said the culmination of all those things gave BYU the edge Saturday night.

“I’m just feeling really great about it,” he said, beaming from his lower-level seat as he watched the postgame celebration unfurl.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU fans storm the field as the Brigham Young Cougars defeat the Utah Utes 26-17, at Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo, on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

Roberts didn’t leave. Even after BYU stymied Utah’s last-gasp attempt at fourth-and-2 to all but secure the final outcome. He stayed to the very end to witness the jubilation, but also because he’s learned his lesson. Like any good rivalry, especially one that’s endured 101 games, this one has had its share of twists and turns, late scores and sudden reversals. Until the game clock zeros out, anything can happen.

The Utes’ nine-game streak started with just such a gut-punch when Utah’s Brandon Burton blocked BYU kicker Mitch Payne’s 42-yard field goal attempt just as time expired. In 2015, the Cougars rallied back from a 35-0 first-quarter deficit in the Las Vegas Bowl but couldn’t find the final score they needed to knock off the Utes. The most scarring matchup, however, took place in 2012. The teams replayed the final second of the game three times before Utah officially secured the 24-21 victory. During that span, BYU missed two field-goal attempts and had another blocked and thrice had to watch Utes fans rush the field in celebration.

“Not until the last kneel down,” Leavitt said of when he felt BYU’s victory was secure. “I was not counting against them until it was over.”

“It’s the end of a decade of pain,” Stevens said.

Now, Utah fans are feeling some of what their team has for nine seasons inflicted.

Sam Fruean, 33, of West Valley was among the few still at the stadium after BYU’s celebration had been broken up. The uncle of Utah redshirt freshman wide receiver Devaughn Vele, he lamented the fact that the Utes won’t have a chance for redemption until Vele is a senior.

“Nine [seasons] is a very long time,” he said of the streak, “but it hurts. I’d like the tradition to keep going. It’s a long wait until 2024.”

When the BYU fans finally did clear the field, many ushered out by a phalanx of security guards and police officers, they began the next chapter of their Cougar fandom in their own ways.

The young Davis wanted his to start with pizza. Dahlgren planned to go home and rewatch the game on ESPN that night “and cry.” Roberts couldn’t wait to give thanks for the team’s good fortune in church Sunday morning.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU fans storm the field as the Brigham Young Cougars defeat the Utah Utes 26-17, at Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo, on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

Hundreds of others headed to the In-N-Out in Orem, where Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and a growing number of Utes fans have been known to celebrate their team’s victories. Some Utah fans continued the tradition despite the defeat, eager to remind those around them, and themselves, that their team is 9-1 over the past 10 games. For the most part, though, it was a sea of BYU blue sweeping through the burger joint, filling every booth and table, cramming shoulder to shoulder in the entryway and cascading down the sidewalk and into the parking lot.

With the workers recognizing it was a new day in Utah County — or perhaps just reluctant to turn away so many starving college students — workers kept the place open long past its posted 1:30 a.m. closing time.

Then they served them burgers and shakes until there was no one left.