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November 26, 2010

Rivalry brings back fond memories

Saturday's rivalry game against BYU is wrought with many story lines. The game marks the final time the two will meet as members of the same conference. The final regular game of the season is also senior day, in which the Utes will honor 18 graduating seniors. The winner is likely to draw a more favorable bowl bid, and of course there are the all-important bragging rights. However you slice it, there is always a lot on the line when these two teams face off.

With so many historic games and memorable moments, a few of the Utah players and coaches sound off on moments in the rivalry that stand out most in their personal experience. With the incestuous nature of the rivalry, as former players become coaches at the rival institution and players torn between the two schools through their recruiting processes, the two schools' histories are intertwined. Not surprisingly, most of the Utes' answers revolved around even-numbered, more recent years whereas former Cougars remember earlier times, with BYU coming out victorious.

Former Ute and current Utah safeties coach and recruiting coordinator Morgan Scalley recalled the moment swiftly.

"Fans rushing the field after '04. Undefeated regular season, going to the Fiesta Bowl. It was crazy. I think it was the first time the cops let the fans on the field. I think the cops just said forget it. I think they tried to hold them back for a little bit. Then the fans just took over," said Scalley. "I remember there was like 16 seconds left and they just said, forget it, we're running. It was crazy. I feared for my life, but it was so much fun. I'll never forget it."

For senior running back Matt Asiata, his best moment came in the 2008 victory at Rice-Eccles Stadium that came just after former Ute great Paul Kruger intercepted a pass from BYU's Max Hall and ran it just short of the goal line at around the 12-minute mark of the fourth quarter. Asiata came out in the famed "Asiata Package", and the rest is history.

"Mine was definitely in that '08 year when I did that little toss to [former Ute tight end] Chris Joppru in the back of the end zone. I think that was best. That was fun. We knew then we had the game iced and the fans just started going crazy."

Former BYU player and current Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake has multiple connections with both programs. As Sitake played for BYU, his brother played for Utah where he now finds himself a crucial part of the Utah program and its success.

"Well, my last year was Lavell's last year and a lot of crazy things happened in that game and there were moments where we should have lost that game, and we pulled it out. However it worked out, however it was meant to be, we were able to pull out the win. That was a great experience," recalled Sitake. "Being able to play against my brother in '99 was another one. We lost that one, but it was a great experience. Regardless of where I am, I'm always going to be connected to this game, because I've played in it and I've coached in it. If you're from the State of Utah, it's always going to have some impact on your life. We just respect the rivalry, have fun with it, play the game, and have fun with it."

Utah's winningest quarterback of all time and current quarterbacks coachBrian Johnson has always been on the Utah side of the rivalry, and his memory is also tied to the 2008 victory that catapulted Utah back into the BCS and into their historic Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama.

"It has to be 2008. With everything on the line, we were here at Rice-Eccles. We win 48-24, it was a big game, my last home game as a senior and everybody rushed the field. I had my entire family here to see it, so it was fun. It was special," said Johnson. "The unique thing about is that I've been unfortunate enough to be on both ends of it, I guess. Because in 2007, we went down there and lost on the last play of the game, so I've won and lost it, and I guess that's why you play the game. It's a unique rivalry and it's a lot of fun as a player. But the 2008 game is something I'll never forget."

For graduating senior center Zane Taylor, the moment was a little more personal and sentimental. As a Moab, Utah native Taylor grew up with the rivalry as a lifelong Utah fan. As such, he recalls times where the rivalry was lopsided, so very much understood the value of a Utah win on behalf of the fans.

"When the crowd rushed the field in 2008, it's something I'll never forget. I've never been packed that tightly with so many people. I couldn't move. I couldn't spread my arms out to get my balance. People from all over were grabbing me and hugging me," said Taylor. "But I think one of the most special moments of that season, and of that victory and maybe of any I've had so far was in the middle of the celebration was this little boy was right next to me. I'm sure he didn't know who I was, or what position I played or anything like that, but I could tell that just because I was a Utah football player he was excited. I could tell how excited he was and how much he loved this football program because he put his arms around my leg and he squeezed so tight, it was like a little boy who hadn't seen his dad in a really long time. That's the kind of hug that little boy gave me and it will always stick with me. Just making a little boy that happy, making his dreams come true and have him see a victory like that and get to come out on the field with us like that. It's just something that I'll never forget."

Interview time with Head coach Kyle Whittingham got cut short before he could provide a memory from a Utah and a coaching standpoint, but he reminisced back to his playing days in naming his most memorable moment of the rivalry as a player.

"As a player, you always remember your senior year. That was a game we played in Cougar Stadium back in 1981, and we won the game 56-28, or something like that," said Whittingham. "So that's the most vivid memory I have as a player. It's just natural that you remember your last game. That was my last game of my senior year, so that's the one that stands out the most."


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