By Dave Walsh, columnist
The Front-Range rivalry was on full display last week in War Memorial Stadium. And the Cowboys picked up a big win against Air Force, made even bigger in that it was a conference win.
This week the Cowboys step out, on the road, for their last non-conference game on the schedule. And the Pokes will step back in time for a re-kindling of a long-time, blood-feud rivalry.
There are many different types of rivalries. Some are backyard, close-to-home, downright nasty rivalries. They are much like what Wyoming and Colorado State have with the annual Border War. That rivalry has covered three different centuries. It started in 1899!
Tomorrow’s late niter in Provo, Utah, takes us back in time, and back to a rivalry that seemed to be a real battle of wills, and even cultures. It was the heathens from Wyoming against squeaky-clean BYU. The hard-working and hard-living Cowboys against the clean-livers from BYU.
The Wyoming –BYU game featured two-teams that proved the old adage that “familiarity breeds contempt”. These two really didn’t like each other for many reasons, and would play each other just about every season for 90 years. And they played each other every single game as members of the same conference.
I was privileged to bear witness to the last 24 Wyoming-BYU blood feuds. And from the first one I announced in 1984, I got the immediate “feel” of a rivalry game. There’s an unmistakable extra dose of intensity, it seems, in those rivalry match-ups.
So, that rivalry “feel” is something we’ll look for in tomorrow night’s Cowboy-Cougar game.
The last time the Pokes played BYU was six seasons ago. It was the 2016 Poinsettia Bowl, and was the only time in 79 meetings that the two teams met in a non-conference game. The last time the two met as conference foes was in 2010, 12 years ago, in Provo.
Two of my most memorable Wyoming games over the last 38 football seasons were two Wyoming–BYU matchups. And they came in back-to-back seasons in the late 1980s. The Pokes season opener in 1988 was played in Laramie against the old rival, BYU. It was the first-ever Wyoming home game played under the lights. And the Cowboys won, and were off and running to a second straight Western Athletic Conference championship.
It was the year before, in 1987, when Paul Roach’s first Cowboy team, went to Provo and pulled-off the unimaginable. A victory over BYU was hard to come by back then, and one in Provo was simply unthinkable.
It was Wyoming’s sixth game of the season. They were 3-2 going in. But the Pokes were 2-0 in WAC play, after wins over Air Force and San Diego State in Laramie. Now it was off to mighty BYU, where the Cowboys hadn’t won in 11 years. The Pokes had lost their last five in Provo.
And it didn’t start well for the Cowboys. It may have been October 10th, but the weather was near perfect in Provo that day. The early afternoon kickoff took place under clear skies and 75 degrees. And the home team took charge, and led the Cowboys, 14-0 at halftime.
Then came the second half. And then came the Cowboys.
The Cougars may have won the first half. But the Cowboys took charge and owned the second half.
The Cowboys, with Craig Burnett at the controls, took their first possession, went right down the field and scored. Burnett threw to Wyoming local, tight end Tom Kilpatrick, from four yards out for the touchdown. And the Cowboys were off and running, and passing.
The Pokes would score 29 unanswered points. Burnett was 14 of 20, for 163 yards, and three touchdowns during the comeback. The great Gerald Abraham would run for a touchdown and end up as the leading rusher in the game with 87 yards. The Wyoming defense would control the BYU offense, and the Cowboys shocked everyone with a 29-27 victory over the highly-favored BYU Cougars.
It was a Wyoming win over BYU, in Provo! It was the only one I saw in my 12 Wyoming-BYU broadcasts there. It was one of the most memorable road wins that I recall, and without a doubt, one of the most important conference road wins ever for the Cowboys.
And that’s the last Wyoming win in Provo. The Cowboys have lost the last nine times they’ve played BYU there.
But that was then, this is now. Let’s see if this game tomorrow night even has that “rivalry feel”, and how these Cowboys handle this big challenge on the road.