Kevin's Commentary: Wyoming's History with BYU

So we meet again.

It took a bowl game to get them together, but Brigham Young and Wyoming are going to be on the same football field again for the Poinsettia Bowl next week.  

Had fate not brought us to this game, it makes one wonder if and when these old rivals would have played again.

Nonetheless here we are.

When I was growing up and through my collegiate days, it was a given that Wyoming would beat Brigham Young in the game of football. The Cougars weren’t that good, and the Cowboys were.

From 1949 through 1962, Wyoming did not lose to BYU with 11 wins and two ties, and from 1963 through 1969 the Pokes won seven straight.   In all, that period of time saw Wyoming win or tie 18 of the 19 contests played. 

That all changed, however, after the “Black 14” season of 1969. From that point until the final game of the 77-game series in 2010, Brigham Young dominated the Cowboys like no other program has in Wyoming’s history. The Cougars won all but seven games from 1970 through 2010.  During that time they scored 35 or more points 18 times, and 50 or more points six times. Two of those seven wins came in back-to-back seasons under Paul Roach (1987 and 1988).

Like everyone I have my favorite BYU-Wyoming games. Most of the old-timers would say the Pokes 1981 victory in a War Memorial Stadium blizzard was their most memorable. Or the first night game in War Memorial history to start the ’88 season.  Both were tremendously memorable, I agree.  The Pokes rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat BYU and two-time All-American quarterback Jim McMahon, 33-20 in the ’81 snowstorm.  And the ’88 team steamrolled the Cougars under the lights, 24-14.

Loved those games.

But my two favorites, oddly enough, both came away from Laramie, in the unfriendly confines of Cougar Stadium (now LaVelle Edwards Stadium).  Edwards, of course, was the architect of the school’s amazing rise to power and run of success in the old Western Athletic and Mountain West conferences.

My first BYU memory was my maiden airplane flight in mid-November of 1966. 

That was memorable enough.  

But the game made it one of my best memories of the series.

My Dad, John, was the radio engineer for Wyoming’s Hall of Fame play-by-play announcer Larry Birleffi at the time, and gave me the opportunity to go with the broadcast crew to Provo.  The game was for a WAC championship.  Each team had lost once entering the game, the Cougars 10-7 to Arizona State and Wyoming, 12-10 to Colorado State on the infamous “bounce pass”.

It was a clash of WAC titans.  

Thanks to Tommy Hudspeth and an emphasis on utilizing football to garner national attention, Brigham Young was an emerging program, and had won the WAC title in ’65. The Cowboys had been solid under Lloyd Eaton’s direction. BYU was once again expected to win the league in ’66 while the Pokes exceeded expectations after going 6-4 in 1965. It all came down to the November 19th matchup.

It was never a contest.

Kicker-supreme Jerry DePoyster got the Pokes off to a good start just five minutes into the game with a 51-yard field goal, commonplace for one of the greatest kickers in Cowboy history.  Then three consecutive Rick Egloff touchdown passes--one to Dennis Devlin and two to Jerry Marion—virtually put the game away for the Cowboys before halftime. BYU’s first great quarterback— of course many would follow—Virgil Carter hit Casey Boyette with a touchdown pass in the last two minutes of the half to get the home team on the board.  A two-point conversion made it 23-8 at the break.

A 54-yard field goal (ho hum) by DePoyster got the Cowboys going just a minute-and-a-half into the last stanza.  Two Cowboy touchdowns early in the fourth--a fumble return by defensive end Tim Gottberg and another connection between Egloff and Marion—turned the game into a rout, 40-8.  BYU would score in the last minute of the game on a 1 yard run by Carter, but the icing on the cake came on the ensuing kickoff. Cowboy defensive back and kick-return extraordinaire Vic Washington fielded the kick at his five and streaked 95 yards up the middle of the field to score with just two seconds left on the clock. What a way to end it! I’ll never forget how much fun it was to watch what was supposed to be an intense matchup turn into a Cowboy play day. I was very proud leaving Cougar Stadium that day.  

The 1966 WAC champs would receive a bid to the Sun Bowl after that game, and beat Florida State on Christmas Eve to cap a marvelous 10-1 season. 

Fast forward 20 years. Cougar Stadium was again the site for another favorite memory of mine. It was 1987, and ironically Wyoming’s first-year head coach Paul Roach had been on Eaton’s staff for that ’66 game.  The Cowboys were 3-2 heading into the early October game at Provo, losing at Washington State and at home to Oklahoma State. The Cougars were 3-2 as well, losing to Pittsburgh at home and at TCU.

The game did not have title implications by any means, too early in the season. But to me its significance was huge because it was the Roach Era’s signature win, and sent shock waves around the league that he and the Cowboys were for real.

BYU got off to a great start with touchdown passes by quarterback Bob Jensen in each of the first two quarters.  The Pokes were down 14-0 at the break, and things did not look promising. But a sensational, if not stunning, third quarter brought the Cowboys back.  

Wyoming quarterback Craig Burnett threw three touchdown passes in the third quarter, one to tight end Tom Kilpatrick, one to running back Darrell Perkins and one to speedy receiver Anthony Sargent and running back Gerald Abraham ran for a touch which the Cowboys capped with a successful two-point conversion. It was 29-13, Cowboys, at the end of three quarters.   As expected the Cougars battled back with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but their bid for a two-point conversion to tie the game with six minutes left in the game failed, and the Pokes held on.

A crowd of 65,921 was stunned and watched as a pocket of brown and gold celebrated wildly in their usual corner end zone location. What a feeling it was walking out of that stadium.  The Cowboys would go on to win six more games in a row, post an undefeated league slate, go 10-3 overall, and play in the Holiday Bowl.  

Those are two of my favorite games in the long Cowboy-Cougar series, I think in large part because they were in Provo.  Believe me the first night game in the War to open the ’88 season is right there, as is that ’81 snow game.

But I know all Cowboy fans would agree with me, on this: any win against the Cougars is a great game. 

Enjoy the bowl everyone and Happy Holidays!