Cougars, Aztecs extend rivalry in Poinsettia Bowl

Teams to square off Thursday at Qualcomm Stadium

Jay Drew

Salt Lake Tribune

Before San Diego State led the conference-wide disdain when BYU announced it was leaving the Mountain West Conference, before replay-gate, before an athletic department official's efforts to sabotage the Cougars' hoped-for move to the Big 12, before 52-52 happened and before Marshall Faulk and Ty Detmer became household names in college football, there was Nov. 24, 1979.

"That's kinda where it all started," legendary BYU football coach LaVell Edwards said last summer.

The "it" that Edwards refers to is the animosity that has existed between BYU and San Diego State -- mostly coming from the Aztecs -- for nearly 35 years. Buried the last few years after BYU became an independent in football and put most of its other sports in the West Coast Conference, the smoldering contempt is back to a certain degree this month as the Cougars and Aztecs prepare to meet Thursday in the Poinsettia Bowl at the site of many of their memorable past skirmishes -- San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium.

In 1979, the Cougars were 10-0 and starting to gain a national following for Edwards' wide-open passing attack. The Aztecs were 8-2 in their second year in the Western Athletic Conference and looking for a win that would give them the league title and a bid to the hometown Holiday Bowl. A crowd of 46,121 packed what was then called San Diego Stadium, and ABC televised nationally the afternoon matchup.

For SDSU, the excitement was over quickly, but the public humiliation still burns.

Marc Wilson's first three passes went for touchdowns, and the Cougars racked up 613 yards in a 63-14 beatdown.

For the budding rivalry -- BYU led the series just 3-2 before 1979 -- it was game on, even if the Cougars would go on to win the next six games from 1980 to 1985 by a combined score of 229-41, fueling the Californians' hatred even more.

"There have been some great games between the two teams," said BYU senior linebacker Brandon Ogletree. "Hopefully this one will be one of those classic San Diego State-BYU games."

The series actually is not that close. BYU leads 27-7-1 and is 9-1 in the last 10 meetings, including five straight wins, which might be the reason why four Cougars -- Ogletree, linebacker Kyle Van Noy, quarterback Riley Nelson and tackle Romney Fuga -- said last week that they don't necessarily consider San Diego State a rival.

"We know that they want to beat us really, really bad," Fuga said. "Maybe because we have had close games with them and somehow came out on top. I don't know why teams like them hate us."

Here's a hint: Ty's tie.

After giving up 62 points to BYU and Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer in a typical demolition at the hands of the Cougars in 1990, the Aztecs jumped out to a 45-17 lead in the third quarter in 1991 and were just a stop or two away from a Holiday Bowl berth. They instead watched Detmer lead a record comeback. The Cougars pulled within a point in the final seconds, and Edwards opted to kick the PAT for the tie -- the overtime rule was introduced in 1996 -- because that was all BYU needed to earn the WAC title and bowl berth.

BYU has won a lot of the matchups by lopsided margins, but the Aztecs turned the tables in 2005, walloping Bronco Mendenhall's first BYU team 31-10 to drop his record to 1-3. He has gone 72-26 since then, including 5-0 against SDSU.

When the Big 12 was considering expansion, the Tulsa World uncovered an email from Jenny Bramer, SDSU associate athletic director, telling Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione that there were "disadvantages" of being in a conference with BYU.

Ironically, Mendenhall's chief mentor in coaching, Rocky Long, is the Aztecs' second-year coach.

Long, an assistant at SDSU when BYU announced it was leaving the MWC, rankled BYU fans when he said good riddance and brought up the decades-old complaint that having older players due to two-year LDS Church missions gives the Cougars a competitive advantage. But he's downplayed the rivalry this month.

"I guess I haven't been here long enough to know if the Aztecs versus BYU is a big rivalry or not," Long said. "I think there are a lot of people that were in the old (WAC) and (MWC) that thought BYU was the rivalry."

Long reminded reporters that he was born in Provo, his father ran track and played football for the Cougars and both his parents graduated from BYU.

"What makes you think I could hate them?" he said.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service)

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