July 31, 2007

November 26, 1953 - Utah vs. BYU

In 1953, the NCAA selected a dozen football games to be aired nationally by NBC. The Utah-BYU game on Thanksgiving Day was one of those. This means that Ute fans living on the east coast were able to watch as many Utah football games back in 1953 than they will this season. I digress.

But by the time Thanksgiving rolled around, Utah was 7-2, had clinched the conference championship, and was favored to beat BYU (2-6-1) by 24 points. Nevertheless, America tuned in, and the game had to go on.

Just like is the case today, the Utah game is the highlight of every BYU season, and they typically outdo themselves whenever they play the Utes. That's exactly what happened in this game, and the Coogs were able to keep up with the Utes right up until they bungled a snap on a PAT at the end of the game.

The Cougars received most of the praise that day, as Zoobs will be quick to point out. But the fact of the matter is that Ute fans had the last word at office water coolers from LA to New York the following Monday. It was a real nailbiter in a big-time college football atmosphere, and I'm glad we got the W.

2007 RANKING: #30. The close finish and national audience make this game one of the most significant in the Utah-BYU series. However, this game loses points in this countdown due to the fact that Utah was the heavy favorite, and could only escape with a 1-point win. Still, this is one game I would LOVE to get a video copy of, if for no other reason than to see the panoramic views of the Salt Lake Valley NBC shot from the Ute Stadium press box.

FURTHER READING:
• From the 2004 Football Media Guide:
"The Utah-BYU football game on Thanksgiving Day, 1953, was one of the earliest nationally televised games. It was the first of 12 games selected by the NCAA television committee for national broadcast in the 1953 season. An estimated 60 million people from coast-to-coast tuned into NBC and saw Utah edge BYU 33-32 in old Ute Stadium. Impressed with the beauty of Salt Lake City, NBC decided to mount two cameras on the press box to capture the panoramic views. Sportscaster Mel Allen handled the play-by-play and Lindsey Nelson did the color for the broadcast."
• Great quote by AncientUte about the game:
". . . And few would forget the Thanksgiving Day game between Utah and BYU in the late ‘50s that was broadcast to the whole nation (no regional coverage). The night before that game, Utah coach “Cactus Jack” Curtice drew up his offensive scheme on a napkin for the opposing coach, who turned around and used it against him the next day. The Utes won anyway."
AncientUte, July 16, 2004

Fantastic blog about the life of Utah's Lou Mele.

WHAT THE PRESS HAD TO SAY:

Y. MISSES KICK NEAR FINISH
----
By John Mooney
Salt Lake Tribune
November 27, 1953

Like a modern Phoenix arising from the ashes of five straight defeats, a gallant, inspired Brigham Young University football team rose to the heights Thursday to hold heavily favored Utah U. to a heart-stopping 33-32 margin before a Turkey Day crowd of 20,189 in the "U" bowl.

The Cougars, who had beaten the Utes only once in their previous 28 games, lost a chance for a well-deserved tie in the closing minutes of the quarter when LaVon Satterfield lost the pass from center on the conversion attempt which would have tied the score.

Couldn't Get Lead

BYU, which couldn't get the lead throughout the ding dong tussle, set the stage for the big kick on a brilliant 80-yard touchdown sortie in the final minutes of the period. Then, with fans limp and the scoreboard lights beckoning out the gloom and haze, Billy Meadows stepped back to boot the placement which would have ended the game in a 33-33 deadlock.

But the Cougars, who dreamed of this one big upset as salve for a rugged season, were not to be granted their one Thanksgiving wish. The pass from center was a little wide, and Satterfield, hurried to get the ball down, saw it squirt from his grasp. He picked it up but it was smothered as he tried to run it across.

That drama was the curtain call for one of the more thrilling games in the long BYU-Utah series extending back to 1922.

Utes Never Trailed

Utah never trailed in the game and at one time boasted a fat 26-13 edge in the third quarter. But the Cougars, who had won only two games all year, wouldn't quit as the Utes tried to pour on the pressure.

It was like trying to put down one of those toys with a loaded base . . . every time the Utes knocked the Cougars down with a scoring play, the Cougars bobbed right back with one of their own.

It started out as a rout and wound up with everyone hanging on the ropes with wide-eyed awe at the offensive fireworks.

It took just over a minute for Utah to get its first touchdown, which was set-up by Don Peterson's 61-yard return of the opening kick-off. Little Pete was dragged down on the Cougar 17 by Satterfield, last man guarding pay dirt.

Jack Cross, a bulldozer in football togs, bulled for eight yards and Peterson swept left end for the tally. Automatic Lou Mele kicked the extra point for 7-0 lead.

Two Passes Miss

BYU started on its 17 after Mele kicked into the end zone on the kick off, and Dick Felt lugged it out 17 yards. Satterfield missed on two passes and Felt kicked out of bounds on the Utah 33.

Mele picked up 22 yards in two plays, but the Utes stalled with Mele kicking out of bounds on the Y 15. Then Satterfield started pitching strikes. He passed to Marion Probert for 9, then to Probert again for 11 to move to the Y 37. Reed Stalworthy split Utah's lack-luster defense for a 21-yard sortie to the Utah 42. Satterfield passed to Probert, who was dragged down at the Redskin 11. He passed again to Felt, who was run out of bounds on the Utah 1 and Don James bulled over. Meadows made this conversion to make it 7-7.

Don Rydalch, Utah's passing ace, couldn't get warmed up in the first quarter and his two incomplete passes killed off a Utah drive. Set Branham kicked out of bounds on the Y 25.

Come Roaring Back

The Cougars came roaring back, with Satterfield passing to Tommy Verbanatz for 12, but this assault bogged on the Utah 38, from whence Satterfield punted out of bounds on the 20.

The Utes covered the 80 yards to the goal in 16 plays, with Jack Cross and Peterson carrying the mail. Cross took a Rydalch pass for 24 to move to the 45-yard line of Utah. Peterson and Cross alternated in carrying until they reached the one and Peterson drove over. Mele missed that one, but it was 13-7.

An 18-yard return by Felt of the kick off started the Cougars on their 76-yard touchdown drive which needed just 13 plays to score. Starting on the Y 45, Henry West started passing. He hit Dewey Brundage for a 22-yard pass. He picked out Phil Oyler for a 20-yarder. He connected with Felt for 10, and he was dropped on the one. Stolworthy spun off tackle for the score and Meadows missed his attempt to make it 13-13.

Break Helps Utes

A break helped Utah score its third TD in the opening minutes of the third period. Satterfield fumbled on the first play after the kickoff and Don Henderson recovered for Utah on the Y 32. Rydalch passed to Morris Nelson for 16 yards and Peterson scored in his second try into the line. Mele kicked the point for a 20-13 Utah lead.

Utah received another break on the kickoff after the touchdown. As Mele kicked off, an official called a personal foul on BYU, which gave Utah possession of the ball on its 45-yard line. Again, the Utes didn't waste any time in converting the break into touchdown gold.

The big charge in this drive was a 46-yard pass from Rydalch to Paul Cook, who was stopped on the Y 10. The Cougars threw the Utes back to the 20-yard line, but on fourth down and 20, Rydalch picked out Max Pierce in the end zone for the score. Carter Cowley missed the conversion, but it was 26-13 for the Utes.

Another Fumble

Another fumble, this one by Stolworthy, gave the Utes a break in the third period, but they moved only from the Y 42 to the 31 before Felt intercepted Cowley's pass.

A 47-yard touchdown dash by James, after he had received a pitch out, put the Cougars back in the ball game in the last minute of the third period. Meadows missed the extra point attempt and it still was 26-19.

A good punt return by Oyler started BYU off again. The little reserve back scooted from the Y 45 to the utah 25 on Peterson's punt. James cut over guard for the final 10 yards and a touchdown. Meadows made this extra point good and it was knotted, 26-all.

Short Kickoff

A short kickoff and a good return by Rydalch put the Utes in motion again. Rydalch gathered in the short kick on the Utah 27 and he returned it 23 yards to the 49. Cross and Peterson drove to the 15 and then Peterson picked up 13 into the line. He bucked over on his first attempt and Utah was through scoring for the day.

But the Cougars weren't Mele kicked into the end zone. Felt's 30-yard run was the big gun as BYU moved to the Utah 32. West pitched a strike to Oyler and the little scooter out-raced the secondary in the dash for the end zone. That made it 33-32 and set the stage for BYU's ill-fated kick.

The game closed the season for both clubs and gave Utah a record of eight wins against two losses, in addition to its third straight Skyline championship.

Had Clinched Title

Utah had the championship clinched before the game, and it probably was just as well for Coach Jack Curtice and his fattened Utes. For the Cougars Thursday showed little respect for the champs.

Peterson and Cross were the Utah work horses in the backfield and Rydalch's passing was adequate when he warmed up. The play of Jim Durrant and Don Jensen offensively was outstanding. The Utes defensively played one of their worst games of the season.

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