Can you imagine what was going through the minds of BYU football players like quarterback Zach Wilson, wide receiver Micah Simon, kicker Jake Oldroyd or running back Ty’Son Williams during the pressure-packed moments at the end of the 29-26 2OT Cougar win at Tennessee Saturday night?
Mitch Mathews can.
The former BYU star wide receiver was a spectator on the sideline for the drama at Neyland Stadium but he was in a few of those situations during his Cougar career.
“In these big, big moments, it comes down to confidence,” Mathews said in a phone interview Sunday. “No matter how fast you are or what type of player you are, it comes down to sheer confidence. But I don’t think any player is thinking about making a miracle or something heroic. All you are thinking is, I’m going to get open and if the ball is in the air, I’m going to catch it. It’s more simple to you as a player than it is to the fans.”
No BYU fan will ever forget Mathews’ Hail-Mary reception on a pass from Tanner Mangum at the goal line in the final play to give the Cougars a 33-28 win at Nebraska in the “Miracle at Memorial” in 2015.
“It crossed my mind Saturday, remembering that play,” Mathews said. “I knew it could be another one of those big-team, big-venue, last-second plays.”
When the current Cougar squad was facing a nearly hopeless situation in the final minutes of Saturday’s game against the Volunteers, Mathews said he knew that was a moment where big-time players make plays.
“Big games like that are won on probably four, five or six big plays,” Mathews said. “If you want to win big games in big venues, you have to have a few key plays. If you don’t have those or the other team has a lot more, you can’t expect to win. I knew that with Oldroyd — “Jake the Make” — they had to get to like the 35-yard line, somewhere in there or it would be a Hail Mary. I would’ve rather relied on Jake’s leg than a Hail Mary, even though I’ve caught one before”
When Wilson hit Simon for the big 64-yard pass and Oldroyd slipped in the subsequent 33-yard field goal to send the game to overtime, Mathews was right there agonizing over every moment.
Then when Williams took the final handoff and powered into the end zone from five yards out (with the help of the entire Cougar offensive line) to give BYU the dramatic win, Mathews went nuts.
“That’s the first away game that I’ve been to in a long time, maybe since I was a player,” Mathews said. “It just happened to be one that came down to the end. What a fitting play at the end where the whole offense was pushing the running back in. I just happened to be there to watch it.”
He said that one of the best feelings was having so many Cougar fans — estimated to be more than 10,000 — there in Knoxville to enjoy the moment.
“As a player, it’s very comforting, knowing you are not alone,” Mathews said. “When you have BYU there and it gets loud for you at an away game, that’s a very good feeling for a player. There were thousands and thousands of people there — really far away from Utah. BYU is the best traveling team in the country. They are great fans who go crazy, who are really loud. It was great. It was a great venue and BYU fans are awesome.”
He laughed when he talked about the undue credit he was given for his presence at the game, including having it called the “Mathews Magic.”
“I heard it from fans a lot,” Mathews said. “They said I needed to come to every away game because when I do, we seem to win in the end. They yelled it out in the game or yelled it out at the end. They post about ‘Mathews Magic,’ which doesn’t mean anything. It’s not real at all. It’s the team that did a great job and pushed through at the end.”
He has been limited in his ability to get to BYU games because he has been in Atlanta as he has worked to build his own pest-control business.
“I played a couple of years in pro football and I loved it, but then I had an injury and I decided to jump fully into entrepreneurship,” Mathews said. “It’s grown a lot really fast and it’s really fun. It fits my personality. I was hyper-focused in football and I love being competitive as an entrepreneur.”
His wife, former Cougar soccer star Madie Lyons Mathews, also has her own business.
“She owns a wedding-planning business,” Mathews said. “Brides can go to her website, BrideAccess.com, and she helps brides plan weddings. She likes that and does really well.”
The couple is currently in the process of moving back to Lehi, so Mathews expects to be at a lot of BYU football home games in the future.
“When we have time, my wife and I love to talk BYU football and BYU soccer,” Mathews said. “We love to enjoy life and continue on with our passions.”