With all the craziness surrounding college sports and the real possibility we won’t have any in the fall, I started to think about some of the great moments in Cougar football that have been my privilege to cover.
Such was the case on Sept. 5, 2015, in Lincoln, Neb. The season opener between BYU and Nebraska had just about everything and ended with one of the classic plays in Cougar history when Tanner Mangum — not long off his mission — somehow found Mitch Mathews in the end zone from 42 yards away on the final snap of the game.
It was also an interesting moment for me, having worked as the sports editor at the Lincoln Journal Star for three years. The Husker fans took that loss hard.
It’s also a reminder of fleeting fame. Mangum burst onto the scene during his freshman season with last-minute touchdown throws to beat Nebraska and Boise State. He finished his career as a spectator on the sideline at the Idaho Potato Bowl in 2018, watching freshman Zach Wilson complete all 18 of his passes to set a BYU record.
But on that hot September day in 2015, Mangum was a gunslinging hero.
LINCOLN, Neb. — The situation was custom-made for Taysom Hill’s defining moment as a BYU quarterback: At Nebraska, down one point, 76 yards from the end zone and 48 seconds to play.
Only Hill was in the locker room, another devastating injury ending yet another promising season. BYU turned to a 22-year-old freshman quarterback who in June was wearing a white shirt and tie as an LDS missionary in Tocopilla, Chile, to save the day.
The young man delivered an all-timer.
You can’t make this stuff up, folks. A Hollywood screenwriter would reject the script.
It’s too hard to believe.
“Tanner Mangum to Mitch Mathews” joins “Jim McMahon to Clay Brown,” “John Beck to Johnny Harline” and “Max Hall to Austin Collie” in the BYU annuls of amazing, game-changing passing plays.
Call it the “Mangum Miracle,” and many on social media did just that.
Mangum couldn’t get the silly grin off his face during his postgame interview session, and can you blame him? His 42-yard heave somehow, miraculously, found the waiting arms of the 6-foot-6 Mathews just a yard deep in the end zone, and Mathews cradled the ball for the game-winner in a shocking 33-28 victory.
Hill, BYU’s Heisman hopeful and team captain, suffered a lisfranc fracture of his foot in the first half. BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said the injury occurred on Hill’s 21-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter.
Yet Hill continued to play.
“The training staff said they’ve never seen anyone go back and play in same game once that (injury) has happened,” Mendenhall said. “He allowed us to stay within striking distance. There’s no player or person that I’ve coached that I care about more than Taysom.”
Now Hill is done for the season for the third time in four seasons. He may be able to apply for an injury hardship year, but nothing has been decided yet.
Mangum replaced Hill initially in the second quarter, completing a nine-yard pass to Devon Blackmon and scrambling for nine more yards. Hill came back in, but Mangum was called upon again in the final quarter. He led BYU to a field goal to close the gap to 28-27 with 7:57 to play.
His next drive was a three-and-out, but he saved his best for last. Mangum’s only completion on the final drive was his fourth-down Hail Mary to Mathews.
Mathews also said the team only practiced the end-of-game play once this week and never with Mangum, who finished 7-of-11 for 111 yards and a touchdown while rushing five times for 27 yards.
“It wasn’t my best ball,” Mangum said. “It came out a little wobbly. I’m just glad it got there.”
Mathews was overcome with emotion. One moment he was over saluting the BYU crowd in the southwest end zone, the next he was kneeling on the ground trying to gather himself.
BYU receiver Terenn Houk actually went over and hugged the referee who had raised his arms to signal the touchdown. Later, former Cougar Vai Sikahema simply walked over to the spot where Mathews caught the ball and pointed.
In 2013, Nebraska beat Northwestern on a Hail Mary play in the same end zone at exactly the same spot, Ron Kellogg to Jordan Westerkamp.
I guess the key is to throw it to that spot, right?
Mangum gave a lot of credit to his performance – as many Cougar athletes do – to Dr. Craig Manning, the guru of positive thought and mental stability in the BYU athletics program.
What was Mangum’s inner monologue when he was called upon to win the game?
“I was reminding myself that it’s all good, we’ve got it under control,” Mangum said. “We’ve practiced, we’ve worked, we’re ready. I just reminded myself that we got this.”
Mangum hadn’t played in a competitive football game since the Under Armor All-American Bowl on Jan. 1, 2012. Before that, the Idaho state championship game in November of 2011.
Missionaries often ride bikes, right? Apparently, playing quarterback is just like riding a bike – if that bike is being ridden through one of college football’s most hallowed stadiums surrounded by 90,000 screaming, red-clad Husker fans praying for you to fail.
Nothing fazed Mangum, BYU’s new starting quarterback.
He was one cool customer.
And he couldn’t stop smiling.