TOLEDO — It’s been more than four years since the BYU football team turned to freshman quarterback Tanner Mangum at Nebraska and he ended up being the trigger man for the “Miracle at Memorial” Hail Mary pass to Mitch Mathews that won the game.
Saturday afternoon at Toledo, Cougar freshman quarterback Jaren Hall had his first chance to do the same thing.
After BYU sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson got hurt in the final minute and the Rockets took a 7-point lead, the pressure went on Hall to try to lead a dramatic rally.
Hall took the field with the ball at the 25-yard line with 51 seconds to play, needing to get a touchdown to force overtime.
He completed three of his first five passes and gained four yards on a scramble, getting the ball to the Toledo 32-yard line with four seconds left.
“He works hard in practice and he’s always ready for his time,” BYU senior wide receiver Micah Simon said of Hall. “He put us in a good position, although it was a really hard position to try to go the length of the field in 50 seconds. He gave us a shot and that’s all you can ask for.”
He rolled to his right and had space to throw, just as Mangum had. It appeared that Cougar senior wide receiver Talon Shumway had a step in the back of the end zone as well, giving Hall someone to aim for.
Unfortunately for Hall and for BYU, the pass ended up having too much juice on it and sailed out of bounds, ending the game.
Still, the Cougars saw good things from Hall as he came and moved the offense down the field at that point.
“It was a hard spot to throw him into, but he was ready for it,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said. “He’s got tons of confidence. There are some things that we can do with him at the quarterback that gives us a little bit of an advantage.”
Sitake added that the bye week comes at a good time in that sense, since Hall will have two weeks to prepare to be the starter.
Simon said the BYU offense believes it should be just as good with Hall at the helm.
“We’re super-confident in him,” Simon said. “I know the work he has put in in the offseason and in spring ball, when Zach (Wilson) was out. I know the type of player he is. We’ve got two weeks to prepare, so we’ll have is back and be ready to go.”
The Cougars got a monster game from senior wide receiver Aleva Hifo.
He sparked the team with a pair of big punt returns, the first of which went for 45 yards and set up the first BYU touchdown, a 32-yard run by senior running back Emmanuel Esukpa.
He also made a great run after a deep ball catch to score a 75-yard TD to start the third quarter, than added a second TD on a 3-yard pass that proved to be BYU’s final points of the game.
“Aleva is a dynamic player,” Simon said. “We always knew what he is capable of. He balled out today and was able to get in the end zone a couple of times. He also set the offense on some plays. That’s what it is all about, sharing the wealth.”
Hifo finished the game with five catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns, as well as two punt returns for 70 yards.
Sharing the ball
Hifo was one of eight different BYU players to catch passes in the game, something that the Cougars have accomplished in all five games in 2019.
Toledo only had seven receivers catch passes — but one of the them was quarterback Mitchell Guadagni.
BYU junior defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga knocked down a Guadagni pass, only to have it ricochet right back to the Rocket QB. He then slipped around the right side for a 5-yard gain on the pass to himself.
The Cougars officially won the turnover battle as they forced three takeaways (an interception, a recovery on a muffed punt and the late-game strip).
BYU turned those into just seven points, however, which meant the two teams tied on the crucial points-off-turnover statistic. Toledo turned the only Cougar turnover (the interception) into the game-winning touchdown.
It was the second time this season the Cougars have forced three turnovers.
BYU won the coin toss, so the Cougars are now 3-4 on coin tosses this year. BYU deferred and Toledo got the ball first. The Cougars forced the Rockets to punt on their first possession ... BYU captains for Saturday’s game were Aleva Hifo (Sr. WR), Moroni Laulu-Pututau (Sr. TE), Austin Kafentzis (Sr. DB) and Beau Tanner (Sr. DB) ... Carrying the BYU alumni flags for the game were Chris Hoke (DL, 94, 97-00), Austin Heder (LB, 11, 14-16) and Alema Fitisemanu (LB 84-85, 88-90). The U.S. flag was carried by Chandon Herring (Jr. OL) ... announced attendance at the game was 24,889, although there appeared to be fewer people than that in the stands.