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Holy War revisited: 1994

Over the next week I will be profiling some classic Utah victories over BYU as we lead up to the showdown this Saturday. Today we revisit the 1994 match, where Utah beat BYU 34-31.

Never before and not since has the Holy War pitted a ranked Utah team and a ranked BYU team. Yet in 1994 when the two teams met at Rice Stadium that November afternoon, it did exactly that.

Utah entered the game against BYU ranked 21st in the nation, the Cougars were ranked 20th. On the line for Utah were not only bragging rights, but the best finish in school history. Though they had already lost out on a conference championship, the Utes were fighting for a chance to play in the Freedom Bowl, while also looking to the finish the season ranked for the first time since 1964, when they finished 14th in the country. But beating a nationally ranked BYU team would be a task and something no Utah team had ever done prior to that 1994 game.

Utah's first score came with 9:50 left in the first quarter. Dan Pulsipher kicked a 20 yard field goal to put the Utes up 3-0 and after stopping BYU's offense, Utah quarterback Mike McCoy connected with Curtis Marsh on a 57-yard touchdown pass to put the Utes up 10-0. And just as it looked like the Utes were going to run all over BYU, the Cougars struck back.

In the second quarter, BYU got on the board with a 30 yard field goal and then turned around and quickly scored a touchdown on a John Walsh pass to Chad Lewis. That evened the score at 10-10, but BYU wasn't done yet. This time Walsh found Bryce Doman on a 31-yard touchdown pass to put the Cougars up 17-10, 17 unanswered points for BYU.

Stunned, but not out, the Utes drove down the field and set up another field goal to cut BYU's lead to 17-13. Then, with 29 seconds left in the half, McCoy hit Deron Claiborne for a 15-yard touchdown pass, putting the Utes up 3 at the half.

In the third quarter, Utah's offense tanked and offered up a miserable quarter. BYU, though, took little advantage, only scoring off an 8-yard pass from Walsh to Tim Nowatzke. That put the Cougars up 24-20 and it was the only score of the quarter for either team. However, with all their struggles in the third quarter, the Utes turned it on in the fourth and completely changed the outcome of the game.

Trailing 24-20 with 10:41 left in the game, McCoy found Claiborne on a 5-yard pass to put the Utes up 27-24. That play was set up when Marsh had a fantastic punt return, dashing all the way to BYU's 19-yard line. And just when it looked like the Utes were going to pull out a 2nd straight victory over BYU, the Cougars came roaring back.

BYU drove 80-yards and with 2:15 left in the game, Walsh found Mike Johnston for the score. The Cougars had suddenly taken a 31-27 lead and time had seemingly ended Utah's hopes of victory. The Utes, who were not known back then for being an offensive juggernaut, faced a deficit with little wiggle room. But, just as they had the year before, Utah was not counting themselves out of the game just yet.

All BYU needed to do was play solid defense for 2:15 seconds and the victory would be theirs. Yet it wouldn't be that easy, as Utah's Cal Beck fielded BYU's kick off and returned it 67-yards. Suddenly, the Utes were in position to score and the improbable defeat now looked like a possible victory. The 34,139 at Rice Stadium waited with baded breath as the Utes' offense returned to the field.

McCoy, who had passed for over 200 yards on the day, stepped up, hiked the ball and found Charlie Brown for a 20-yard touchdown pass. And just like that, the Utes were up 34-31 with less than a minute left in the game. But the game wasn't over yet and BYU's effective offense could never be counted out in the waning seconds of a game.

BYU returned Utah's kick and began a near-epic drive. They worked their way down the field, crossing the 50 and then dragging Utah's defense dangerously into their own territory. Just as it seemed the Utes were destine to win, BYU was on the verge of their own come from behind victory. Fans, shocked by the final minute of football unfolding in front of them, didn't know how to react.

And then, when all hope was nearly lost for the Utes, Bronzell Miller forced Walsh to fumble and the Utes recovered. The game was over, Utah had won 34-31. The exact same score as the year before and nearly in just as dramatic fashion.

1994 proved to be one of the best games in the rivalry's history and since then, Utah and BYU have yet to meet as ranked opponents. Utah would finish the season 10-2, with a top-10 ranking and at the time the best finish in school history. The Utes would run their winning streak to 3 the next year, beating BYU by a score of 34-17.