Provo • As a former BYU fullback, coach Kalani Sitake is all too familiar with the old rivalry against San Diego State, which will be revived Saturday in the regular season finale for both teams in San Diego.
During the years that Sitake played for BYU (1994, 1997-2000), the Cougars went 3-1 against the Aztecs. And what stood out to the fourth-year coach most back then was the weather.
The team always played in late October or November, so the warmer southern California weather was a nice break from the chillier weather in Provo. Ironically, the Cougars will do just that this weekend as they escape this week's snowy conditions.
But Sitake enjoyed the trips to San Diego for more than just sunny days.
“I also remember that we had a lot of players and a lot of fans in that area, in southern California,” Sitake said. “I know that there will be a lot of support there and looking forward to the game. I’ve always remembered the athleticism and speed San Diego State’s always had, and it’s been that way for a very long time.”
Assistant coach Jernard Gilford also played for the Cougars in that general period (1999-03) and remembers the SDSU game always felt huge because of the rivalry that was built before his time. The Aztecs were always known for having great skill players like running back Marshall Faulk, while BYU was known for having bigger players and being more physical.
“But now they’ve changed it up and they’re a very physical team and still have great athletes all around the field,” Gilford said. “[Saturday’s game] should bring up a lot of memories from the past, past years.”
BYU AT SAN DIEGO STATE
When • Saturday, 7 p.m. MT
TV • CBSSN
Although former BYU great Ty Detmer had his best personal season in 1990, when he threw for 5,188 yards (the only BYU quarterback to throw for 5,000 yards in a single season) and won the Heisman Trophy, it was the 1991 game he remembers most from the series.
The team mounted a large, late-game comeback to tie the game, which led to a Western Athletic Conference title for the Cougars.
Throughout the SDSU series, there were always some heated moments, which only added to the rivalry, Detmer said.
“We had some great players, they had some great players,” Detmer said. “[The SDSU game] was always one of those games you knew would be dangerous.”
Here’s a look at some of the most memorable BYU-SDSU match-ups:
BYU 23, SDSU 6 (Poinsettia Bowl). Dec. 20, 2012
This was the last time both programs met. However, the bowl game was played at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego. It turned out to be a very close game until Kyle Van Noy, now a star linebacker with the Patriots, had one of his best individual defensive games ever to help put the game away. Van Noy scored two defensive touchdowns — a strip sack in the end zone and an interception return for a touchdown. Current BYU assistant coach Preston Hadley played in the bowl game and remembers just how defensively savvy the game turned out to be.
“Their head coach [Rocky Long] is a mentor to Bronco [Mendenhall], so both of them, two similar minds, similar approaches, similar beliefs,” Hadley said. “It was a physical game. They were really talented and also a physically tough team that I felt like they came close to matching our physicality.” The Cougars finished the season 8-5 in their second season as an independent.
BYU 24, SDSU 21 (Provo). Oct. 9, 2010.
This served as the last conference matchup between both programs in the Mountain West Conference. The Cougars came into the game with a 1-4 record, having just fired defensive coordinator Jaime Hill. But BYU rushed for 271 yards in a grind-it-out performance and the game helped turn the Cougars’ season around. BYU ended up tying for third in the MWC and finished the season 7-6 overall.
BYU 48, SDSU 27 (San Diego). Dec. 1, 2007.
This game was originally scheduled for Oct. 27, but was postponed due to Federal and State declarations of of emergency because of wildfires in southern California. What was then Qualcomm Stadium wound up housing some 12,000 wildfire evacuees. Freshman All-American Harvey Unga scored a career-high four touchdowns (three rushing and one receiving). As a team, BYU gained 538 yards of total offense and held the Aztecs to 356. BYU went on to win the 2007 MWC title and finished 11-2 overall.
BYU 45, SDSU 44 (San Diego). Nov. 11, 1993.
There were a lot of notable performances in this high-scoring shootout, including SDSU’s Faulk, who ran for 253 yards and two touchdowns. BYU quarterback John Walsh passed for 417 yards and five TDs. The Cougars’ two running backs were Kalin Hall (father of current QB Jaren Hall), who had 88 yards, and Jamal Willis (father of current CB Shamon Willis), who had 85 yards and one touchdown. In a down season, BYU still tied for first in the Western Athletic Conference and finished 6-6 overall.
SDSU 45, BYU 38 (Provo). Sept. 10, 1992.
The Aztecs were led by Faulk, who ran for 299 yards and three touchdowns. Although they fell short, the Cougars were led by John Walsh, who passed for 380 yards and five touchdowns. Kalin Hall ran for 143 yards and added 46 receiving yards and Jamal Willis added 62 rushing yards and 28 receiving yards. BYU tied for first in the WAC and finished 8-5 overall.
BYU 51, SDSU 51 (San Diego). Nov. 16, 1991.
Certainly the wildest game the two teams have ever played. The Cougars trailed 45-17 midway through the third quarter and then later rallied from a 52-38 deficit with 8:35 left in the game to forge a wild tie with the Aztecs. BYU needed to either tie or win to earn the WAC title. SDSU again got a big performance from Faulk (118 rushing yards with two TDs and 116 receiving yards and two more touchdowns), wide receiver Darnay Scott (222 receiving yards and two touchdowns) and quarterback David Lowery (569 yards and five TDs). Detmer, the season after he won the Heisman Trophy, passed for 599 (!) yards and six touchdowns. Cougar running back Peter Tuipulotu (father of current tight end Hank Tuipulotu) ran for 85 yards and added 33 receiving yards and one touchdown. Willis had 66 rushing yards and one touchdown. and 163 receiving yards an two TDs. Tight end Byron Tex (father of current TE Isaac Rex) had 51 receiving yards and one touchdown. BYU won the WAC title and finished 8-3-2 overall.
BYU 63, SDSU 14 (San Diego). Nov. 24, 1979.
After SDSU joined the WAC in 1978, this was the first conference meeting in San Diego between the programs. It was also a nationally televised game — still a bit of a rarity at the time for WAC teams. The Cougars were ranked No. 10 in the nation and had a 10-0 overall record, while the Aztecs entered the season finale at 8-2 overall with only one conference loss. BYU quarterback Marc Wilson started the game connecting on his first three passes, each for a touchdown to put the Cougars up 21-0 with 6:48 to go in the first quarter. Wilson finished the game 13 of 20 for 278 yards and four touchdowns overall in BYU’s victory. The Cougars won the WAC, finishing 11-1 overall.