As a columnist, my job is to draw conclusions and provide perspective after wins and losses.
In 2009, Jason Franchuk and I traveled to Texas in early September as BYU took on No. 3 Oklahoma to open the season. The 14-13 win was complete when the Sooners missed a long field goal in the final minute. In my mind, it was the biggest win in school history and was going to propel the Cougars to a really special season.
A couple of losses — both at home, to Florida State and TCU — derailed that dream season. Sure, 11-2 turned out to be really, really good, but what could have been, right?
ARLINGTON, Texas — This changes EVERYTHING.
Heading into the Saturday’s game at the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium as a 22-point underdog to No. 2 Oklahoma, 20th-ranked BYU came up with two monster goal-line stands and a huge go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter.
Long after the biggest HD video screen in the world went dark, Cougar fans and players celebrated late into the Texas night what could be the biggest win in BYU history.
That’s 14-13, guys in blue and white.
The Cougars can color themselves national contenders, something they tried to do last year with the t-shirt motto “Quest for Perfection” but failed.
Doing it on the field in front of 75,437 fans and an ESPN audience carries so much more weight.
“We got it done, we got it done,” BYU senior defensive end Jan Jorgensen said. “I’ve been saying all week if our team was going to do it, we had to come out and play more physical than they did and keep it a low-scoring affair. That’s just what we did.”
It was a game filled with big defensive plays, penalties and mistakes.
Coming in without All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma lost Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford to a hard but clean hit by BYU’s Coleby Clawson near the end of the first half. Bradford suffered an ACL sprain in his shoulder and never returned. Still, the Sooners led 10-7 at the half.
That’s when BYU quarterback Max Hall, in front of ESPN cameras and the football nation, told Cougar fans as he left the field, “We’re going to win.”
Oklahoma’s defense frustrated BYU most of the second half and picked off Hall near the end of the third quarter, setting up the Sooners at the Cougar 27. A pass interference call on BYU’s Brian Logan in the end zone gave Oklahoma first-and-goal at the 2-yard line. But the BYU defense turned away a pass and two runs to force a field goal, and Oklahoma led 13-7 with 11:47 left to play.
“It (the goal line stand) is just heart and guts and we’ve been preparing out butts off since January for moments like that,” BYU junior safety Andrew Rich said. “I can’t give enough credit to our guys. We battled. Coaches put us in the right place to make plays. It was an amazing experience.”
That goal-line stand led to the clutch drive of the game for BYU: 16 plays, 78 yards, 8:38 off the clock, four third-down conversions and one fourth-down conversion. On the drive, BYU went to a two-minute drill where Hall called the offense, mixing up about 10 scripted plays. A big one was a 23-yard strike to senior tight end Dennis Pitta on fourth-and-4 to the Oklahoma 6.
“That’s what we do,” BYU senior tight end Dennis Pitta said. “I think that’s the best part of our offense. When we get in two-minute situations, we’re able to move the football. Not much has to be said in that situation. We all know our jobs and we’re always on the same page when it comes down to it.”
On third-and-goal from the Oklahoma 7, Hall connected with sophomore McKay Jacobson in the back of the end zone for the score and Mitch Payne’s extra point made it 14-13, BYU, with 3:03 to play.
“It was one of those things that worked out just liked we had practiced it,” Hall said. “We knew when we got down there they were gonna play goal line zone and they were very conscious of Dennis.”
“I went back and immediately saw them suck in on Dennis and that left McKay wide open in the back of the end zone. It was just like we drew it up.”
But Payne sent the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, giving Oklahoma the ball at the BYU 40 with plenty of time on the clock for a game-winning drive.
Sooners backup Landry Jones moved his team to the BYU 33-yard line with just under two minutes to play. That’s where the BYU defense, which held Oklahoma to just 265 yards of total offense, made another stand and forced a fourth-and-15. On fourth down, the Sooners were left to attempt a 54-yard field goal by Tress Way with 1:28 left, and the ball fell well short. All that was left was for Hall to take a knee three times, senior defensive end Vic So’oto to wave the BYU flag at midfield and Bronco Mendenhall to celebrate the biggest win of his career.
“I wish I could say it (the win) might have been a random event but it’s been an entire off-season in the making with the lessons we learned last year,” Medenhall said. “The way the guys played, they deserved it. I was just a cheerleader.”
BYU outgained Oklahoma 357 yards to 265 and held a 37:02 to 22:58 advantage in time of possession. The Sooners were hit with 12 penalties for 93 yards and had two turnovers.
“Let’s not take it away from BYU,” Oklahoma offensive lineman Brian Simmons said. “They played a great game. They came out here and played very disciplined ball. Us, on the other hand, we just made too many mistakes. I’m pretty sure we had over 100 yards in penalties.”
Hall finished 26-of-38 for 329 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Pitta caught seven passes for 90 yards and Bryan Kariya, who was subbing for Harvey Unga, had four catches for 76 yards. BYU played without its top running back, Unga (hamstring), and lost leading tackler Matt Bauman in the first quarter to a concussion.
So both teams had adversity, as is often the case in a close game. And BYU managed to overcome that adversity for a huge upset.
“It’s still kind of surreal,” Pitta said. “It’ll sink in the next couple days what we were able to accomplish. We played great tonight. We didn’t leave much doubt we’re a good football team.”