BYU-Utah rivalry still heated

Nov 27, 2009 - 10:55 PM By DOUG ALDEN AP Sports Writer

PROVO, Utah(AP) -- For the first time in four years, Utah and BYU don't have the conference title on the line when they settle their heated rivalry.

The No. 22 Utes and 18th-ranked Cougars are stuck in a tie for second in the Mountain West Conference and any realistic BCS hopes for both vanished long ago.

But make no mistake, this is still big in the Beehive State.

"It's very intense. I haven't been a part of anything like it ever before," Utah defensive back Joe Dale said. "It's big on campus and it's huge to this team and it's huge to this state."

The Cougars and Utes have identical records at 9-2 and 6-1 in the Mountain West. The only conference loss for both was to No. 4 TCU, which can wrap up an undefeated regular season Saturday against New Mexico.

So this year's meeting in Provo is more about bowl position, staying in the Top 25 and, most importantly, winning the game that seems to matter most to the fans.

BYU has gone as far as wrapping campus statues and signs in plastic to prevent any vandalism from overzealous fans.

"It keeps getting bigger and bigger," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who played linebacker at BYU. "When both teams are doing well, it adds a different dimension to the game. It's healthy and positive for the rivalry."

Utah fans were so excited to end a two-game losing streak in the rivalry last year they rushed the field with 29 seconds still remaining. They were herded back to the stands to give Utah quarterback Brian Johnson one last snap, when he took a knee and ran out the clock to seal the Utes' 48-24 victory and end BYU's two-year reign on top of the Mountain West.

The Utes had a BCS berth on the line, but Utah fans probably would have celebrated just as much to win the rivalry.

"You have two teams that are having great success. Two teams that are in the top-25 in the country," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "Two teams that are 35-whatever miles apart and a state championship on the line with two teams that have played very good football over the last four years, so I think it'll be a great game."

It usually is. Last year's blowout was an anomaly - 10 of the last 12 meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less.

"It's basically the same no matter what year it is," BYU defensive end Jan Jorgensen said. "In the end this is still a huge rivalry game and it's a game that both teams put a lot of importance in. We want to go out on top. We want to win our state championship we want to go out with those bragging rights.

This year's game is at BYU, where Utah last won four years ago in an overtime thriller. Then the Cougars won the next two with amazing comebacks, starting with John Beck's scrambling touchdown pass to Johnny Harline on the final play in 2006. Two years ago the Cougars had to convert on a fourth-and-12 deep in their own territory to continue a drive for the game-winning touchdown in a 17-10 victory.

The string of thrillers ended last year when Utah intercepted Max Hall five times and caused him to fumble once. This is the last shot at the Utes for seniors like Hall and tight end Dennis Pitta, who is one catch shy of Austin Collie's school record of 215.

"A lot of times emotions take over and you lack the focus and things you need to executive a play. Being able to control that early will be a challenge," Pitta said. "We've been a confident football team the last few years. I don't think it's any different this year. We're a more mature team this year than we were last year."

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