Ute fans couldn’t ask for a better way to ring in 2022 than celebrating New Year’s Day inside the historic Rose Bowl, taking on (THE) Ohio State University, but before that happens, let's look back on some of the great moments that got us there. The 2021 season is poised to rank among the program’s best, right alongside the 2004 and 2008 undefeated runs that helped build the foundation that this current team (and future teams) stand on, and these five moments helped to define what made 2021 great.
This wasn’t just one moment that helped to make this season great, but several. At this point, we all know the heartbreaking story of Ty Jordan, the freshman phenom who tragically lost his life at the conclusion of the 2020 season. 2021 was always going to be dedicated to his memory as the program announced plans to unveil a memorial in his honor at the entrance of portal 22 inside Rice-Eccles Stadium, as well as a display inside the newly renovated locker room. Along with that, fans were invited to participate in a “Moment of Loudness” before the start of the fourth quarter. The raucous celebration was a way to honor Ty’s life by giving him the boisterous chorus of fans that the 2020 COVID season robbed him of, and Ute fans absolutely delivered. Sadly, Ty’s close friend and teammate, Aaron Lowe, was added to that tribute after a fatal shooting claimed his life, adding to the grief the Ute community was already shouldering. The Moment of Loudness became a hallmark for the season and a tradition that ultimately carried over to Las Vegas as the team competed for conference glory with Aaron’s mom in attendance as an honorary captain. Personal bias aside, the sea of lights and a thundering ensemble of voices erupting from the newly-constructed bowl as Ty and Aaron’s tribute video plays across the screen is arguably as emotional as Iowa’s famous wave to the adjacent children’s hospital, and certainly earned a spot inside the best moments of the season, even if there were seven of those moments to enjoy.
You’d have to go all the way back to 1947 when a young Frank Nelson broke loose for 93 yards against BYU to find a longer rushing touchdown than TJ Pledger’s 96 yarder against Stanford. Utah was already up 28-0 with 3:25 left in the first half when the speedy back took the handoff from Cam Rising and sprinted his way down the sideline and into the endzone. The touchdown would be the fifth rushing TD of the evening (more on that later), as the Utes would go on to dismantle a struggling Stanford squad, 52-7 on the road.
Eight total Utes can lay claim to the same school record: four touchdowns in one game. Tavion Thomas on the other hand is the only Ute who can claim that record twice. After scorching UCLA for 160 yards and four touchdowns, Thomas turned around a week later and scored Utah’s first four touchdowns OF THE HALF before Pledger’s 96 yarder gave someone else a chance to find the end zone against Stanford. This back-to-back performance helped pave the way for a record-breaking 17 single-season rushing TDs, surpassing John White and Zack Moss, who each had 15.
It almost feels unfair to rank this as the second-best moment of the season considering Utah didn’t necessarily need Covey’s heroics to pull off the win over the Ducks, who at the time were positioned to represent the PAC-12 in the College Football Playoffs, but the circumstances warrant special recognition. Not only is Britain Covey a fan favorite, but his knack for burning the opposition on punt and kickoff returns is the stuff of legends. To end an already dominant half of football with an electrifying return for a 78-yard TD is just classic Covey, but to do so on national TV against the third-ranked team in all of college football cements this as one of the top plays of 2021. The eruption of joyful noise inside Rice-Eccles that occurs when the dynamic playmaker starts calling for blockers as he tiptoes down the sideline is best represented by ABC/ESPN’s sky cam literally shaking from the ensuing celebration in the stands.
After curb-stomping the Ducks two weeks prior, the Utes turned around and did it again at the PAC-12 championship inside Allegiant Stadium, claiming their spot in the Rose Bowl the old-fashioned way. Whether it be Devin Lloyd’s Herculean pick six, Cam Rising’s Heisman-esque stiff arm, or the offensive line’s overall containment of Oregon’s highly-touted Kayvon Thibodeaux, it’s not only impossible to earmark one particular moment as “the play of the game”, but it’s also a disservice to the incredible team-effort the Utes strung together to achieve what seemed impossible after a 1-3 start.
An honorable mention is owed to every opponent the Utes faced this season who took their time to honor Ty and Aaron. From Samson Nacua hitting the field at LaVell Edwards Stadium while proudly carrying the 22 flag as a former Ute, Chip Kelly’s and his Bruins huddling at the 22 yard line before the game and leaving a bouquet of flowers, or the various adversaries the Utes faced on the road that held tributes inside their own stadiums when Utah visited, they each contributed to making each game 22% better than the last.
Thank you for helping to make 2021 a special year. 2022 will bring in some new talent that you’ll get to know and love as we grow the BlockU brand into something bigger and better than before, and we’re glad to have you all along for the ride as we grow. Until then, have a happy and safe holiday season, and we’ll see you all at the Rose Bowl!