Oct 13, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Austin Collie leaves the field after a win over the New Orleans Saints at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Saints 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
Editors Note: Friend and longtime contributor to Hoyo’s Revenge, Raider Ute has decided to grace us with a new feature we’re calling What If Wednesday. He takes a moment in time of Utedom, considers how a change to it would have impacted Utah Athletics and all of our lives. This Week, it’s the 2006 Holy War.
Before I get started with Part II, I wanted to emphasize a few things that went into how I wrote that piece and how I’ll write future alternate historical stories.First, writing things like this for a sport like college football (and the Utes in particular) is a different kind of challenge than it would be for baseball because baseball is a game that is mired in statistics. Up until the devotees of sabermetrics took over the game and convoluted it further, things like batting average, RBI, runs scored, earned run average, and so on could connect–in theory anyway–Honus Wagner to Derek Jeter. It’s much harder to do that in a game like football when the only statistic that really matters is the final score.Thus, in that sense, a writing project like this one can take on a lot more subjectivity. As I mentioned in Part I when it came to what an alternate 2006 recruiting class would look like, if you have any gripes or disputes about what I come up with, I’m fairly easy to find on Twitter and other social media. I haven’t decided to move to Big Piney and live off the land.
(Well, not yet anyway).
Alternate 2006 Holy War: Harline Is Well Covered
Part I left off just before the alt-2006 Holy War is about to begin. Ute fans still have painful memories of the actual ’06 contest. We can all recoil in horror over the fact that Johnny Harline is still open and that it prevented a buzzkill on what ended up being an outright conference title for the Cougars. You all remember that in the actual 2006 campaign, BYU had clinched the MWC title the week before against New Mexico. So let’s pick up where we left off in Part I.
There hasn’t been a game quite like this in the rivalry’s history. In fact, in the lifetimes of both schools fan bases, a Holy War where both teams are ranked (albeit at the fringes of the Top 25, thanks to an entire season of games being aired on The Mtn. and Versus) tied atop the conference is uncharted territory. 2004 brought College Gameday to Salt Lake City for the very first time, but that was different. That game was a coronation for the Utes and almost an afterthought for BYU. This one promises to be the closest thing the State of Utah will see to an Ali/Frazier heavyweight title fight.
Not surprisingly, the media in Salt Lake picks up on this and covers everything as close to wall to wall as time and advertising will allow. Both sides are keeping quiet until 1280 The Zone brings on Coug RB Curtis Brown as a guest. No stranger to boisterous commentary before a rivalry game, Brown is asked about his thoughts on the game. To which he says this:
“I’m going to say it right here on the air, I guarantee a victory on Saturday. BYU still owns this state, we just let Utah borrow it for a few years.”
This comment sets off a firestorm the likes of which we have never seen and may never see again. At least Lenny Gomes in 1993 and Max Hall in actual 2009 made their comments after the game was over. Brown may have said what the lion’s share of the Cougar faithful were really thinking. Ute fans, not immune from reactionary taunting, printed up t-shirts and signs with “Hey Curtis, Guarantee This!” emblazoned on them. The meme spread like wildfire on the message boards and on sports talk radio. BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall doesn’t really do much in the way of damage control when asked about it later in the week, saying that he “appreciates the enthusiasm of our players for such an important game as this one”.
A cold, late autumn afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium created the ideal backdrop for the hottest ticket in Salt Lake City since Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. Things start off with some pre-game jibber jabber at midfield, but the Cougars take the ball and march right down and score. On this drive at least, Curtis Brown makes good on his guarantee, running for a 26 yard gain to set up a 1 yard sneak by senior John Beck. 7-0 BYU.
Brian Johnson has his chance now, still smarting from his late-game interception to seal a Cougar victory in Provo last season. While the Utes could put up some points offensively, the offense remained one dimensional and it was a dimension clearly in favor of the pass. Sensing this, Kyle and his second year offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig give Johnson carte blanche to take off and run if no one is open downfield. Sure enough, the first drive occurred with a lot of Johnson taking off and sliding for sizeable chunks of yardage in the middle of the field. But it was a 33 yard end-around to Brent Casteel that set up the tying score on a 2 yard plunge from Darryl Poston. Tied at 7.
Both teams trade a pair of field goals back and forth for a 13-13 tie late in the second quarter. The Cougars final drive of the half ends in Beck throwing an interception to J.J. Williams at the BYU 35. Rather than electing to go for a long field goal, Kyle chooses to kneel down on the ball and go into the locker room with a 13-13 tie. The second half of this contest will test the acid reflux of the 46,441 (the largest crowd to see a game in the entire history of Rice-Eccles Stadium) in attendance.
With touchdown passes to Austin Collie and Johnny Harline for BYU, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown by Eric Weddle and a Brian Johnson touchdown run for the Utes, it’s tied at 27 going into the final 2 minutes of the 4th quarter. BYU holds the ball for presumably the game’s final drive at their own 10 yard line. The Cougar offense has been nothing if not proficient for the entire season and this game is proving to be no exception. A few series of methodical passes by Beck gets the Cougars to within field goal range. Not wanting to give the Utes a chance to drive for a potential game-winning field goal of their own, Beck kneels at the 29 yard line a few times, and BYU calls their final timeout with :02 left in regulation. Here it is, BYU kicker Jared McLaughlin is about to line up for a potential championship winning 42 yard field goal kicking straight into the north endzone. The kick is up…
…off the right upright. We go to overtime. Tied at 27.
Both offenses produce field goals in the first overtime to send us to overtime number 2 tied at 30. The Utes score again to take a 37-30 lead into BYU’s possession of the second overtime. As the Cougars are going toward the north endzone in this overtime on 3rd and 6, John Beck has trouble hearing the snap count. The ball is snapped to him when he doesn’t expect it in the shotgun and there’s a scrum for the ball. With how important this call is, officials take at least two minutes trying to muck through what seems like 22 football players trying to grab onto a football that could mean the difference between winning a conference title and coming oh-so close. The result isn’t know for what seems like an eon.
As the pile comes undone, a few Ute players start to celebrate. Several seconds later, underneath the pile, comes Paul Soliai running with the football over to the Ute sideline. Fumble. Utes recover. Both goal posts come down almost immediately. The MUSS and the North End Zone storm the field and there’s nothing security can do about it. Of all the great Holy War games, this one may have been the greatest of them all. Utah 37, BYU 30. The Utes are Mountain West Champions.
The Utes make it to the Las Vegas Bowl against a very demoralized Oregonsquad and its Brian Johnson who shines once more after a UCLA game where he played a major factor in a near victory against the Bruins. Finishing the season at 11-2, the alt-Utes have now won 3 Mountain Westtitles in four seasons and everything looks poised for a very special 2007 season.
Stay Tuned for Part III, an alternate history of the 2007 Utes.