College football rivalry games are ones that both fans and players look forward to each year. But the Holy War always feels like more than just a game. The ties between Utah and BYU run deep — from players transferring between schools to coaches who have played in the game for one team but coached for the other. The Holy War is one of the best rivalry games in college football.
Emotions are high — in some cases, higher than on a regular game day. But that isn’t the only thing that sets the Holy War apart from any other game day.
“Most of the teams are made up of a lot of players that lived in Utah and experienced it throughout their whole lives,” said former Utah football wide receiver Kenneth Scott. “The state of Utah, per se, has been divided in between either, mainly Utah and BYU fans. And so I think, because of that, it’s the reason why it’s viewed as a really big rivalry.”
Scott, who was a part of Utah football from 2010 to 2015, is among a group of players who never lost to BYU during their time at Utah. Not only did he get to experience the game at both Rice-Eccles Stadium and LaVell Edwards Stadium, but in 2015, the two teams met in Las Vegas for the Holy War in Sin City.
“It was a build-up of anticipation cause man, those festivities got kind of rowdy from our players. We talkin’ trash and their players talkin’ trash and so like that game actually felt like it had more emotions and built-up animosity towards it because all the festivities that we have with each other and the trash talking within it. So I think that kind of made it more, you know, emotionally driven than the other games,” Scott said.
While Scott sees the Holy War as a rivalry that connects to the state, former Utah linebacker Stevenson Sylvester says it all comes down to school pride.
“I’m a part of something, I take it extremely, extremely serious. You know, anything you do, especially what they tell athletes and how they train athletes, is you commit 100%. And so that’s exactly what I think the football mentality is just to commit. It’s just like in high school. In high school, you really support your school, every day, everybody reps their high school, but when you go to college it is that much more important,” Sylvester said. “I think what makes the rivalry so interesting is just how it’s played. It’s so close in proximity that you definitely want to show that you’re better than the other school. And I think it just goes to competition. At the end of the day, am I better than the other school? Whether they’re north or south?”
Unlike Scott, when Sylvester was playing for the U, the teams he played for only beat BYU once. The lone win came during the undefeated season in 2008, when the No. 4 Utes took down No. 16 BYU 48-24.
Both groups of fans aim to make their home stadiums a hostile environment for any opposing team that comes to town. But with these two teams being approximately 50 miles away from each other, it is one of the easier away games for fans to travel to.
According to Scott, it was hard to tell when they were on the road because the energy that LES had made him feel like he was back at home.
“I love playing in an opponent stadium simply because they hate you. You know, a lot of people used to talk trash to me from the fan perspective simply because they knew I was a good player. So that made me feel that much better,” Sylvester said. “I personally loved playing in LaVell Edwards Stadium. I love how it’s just set up. You can really feel everybody’s rage. I mean, I think that’s really interesting. Seventy-five thousand — however much it seats — but I can feel the presence of everybody, and somebody who’s been hollering and booing you because they know you are good just makes the game more stressful.”
While sometimes the seriousness of the game can be felt from the fans, the trash talk between the two teams is something uniquely Utah.
“They talk the most unexplicit trash that I ever heard in my life. I’ve never heard someone like to talk trash, but not make one curse word. I’m like, this is different. I’ve never heard that before. Like usually when people talk trash it’s like ‘yeah you mother—,’ like these dudes said ‘you suck dude.’ Like this is weak,” Scott said.
Trash talk aside, both Sylvester and Scott have taken away countless memories from their time playing in the Holy War.
“My favorite memory has to do when I first realized that I just truly hate BYU. And that was after the 2006 year. You know, things were going our way, we were doing good, we were beating them and then all of a sudden they throw a cross the field pass and score in the last seconds of the game and then they’re bragging. They knew they were going to win, like it was not even a close game, and they just were trash talking like we were nothing. And that just made me livid,” Sylvester said.
Scott doesn’t have just one favorite moment, but two that stood out to him for different reasons. Just like Sylvester, one of his favorite games was one that came down to the wire, but in 2012, ended in Utah’s favor.
“It was crazy because it came down all the way to the end. And they had chances to win it. And they just missed the field goal kicks. And you could just feel the stadium shake. The vibrations were crazy,” Scott said. “And there was the bowl game. The bowl game was crazy, because, you know, we were whooping their butts, like it was no one’s business and then all of a sudden, they just started coming back and it came to be a down-to-the-wire type game.”
Scott was also a part of the team that rolled BYU 54-10 at LES, but the Utes “just blew them out completely.”
Now that some time has passed since both have suited up for the U, they both look forward to the game for different reasons.
“I wish I was playing. I wish I was still going out there and playing BYU each and every year because I want to put more onto this rivalry. I want to be a part of more wins. I want to be a part of really taking it to the Cougars,” Sylvester said. “I wish I could play every year because my knowledge from my years in college, and my years in the pros and my years of observing is just growing so crazily that I could definitely use it as a player.”
Scott’s perception of the game hasn’t changed, but the inner workings of the team he played for has switched sides, testing how he feels when the game comes around.
“Literally my coaches that were coaching me at Utah are now at BYU. So it’s like, man, I want my coaches to succeed. But the bad thing about wanting my coaches to succeed means that they have to win, because coaches are based on wins and losses,” Scott said. “And still back then I had some respect, cause coach [Guy] Holliday was well respected over on the BYU coaching staff. And so as an alumni now I’m like dang and all my coaches over there now and I don’t want to talk trash to ’em, like talk down about them, because I genuinely want my coaches to succeed. And so it’s just different. Trust me, I still don’t root for them. But I do root from them because I want my coaches to succeed, and I got a lot of love for them.”
The love of the game and the love of the Holy War is the reason that there have been so many memorable moments from this long standing rivalry. And the next time the two teams meet on the gridiron will be another chance for memories to be made.