Houston • If head football coach Bronco Mendenhall abruptly calls it quits in the next year or two, Saturday’s four-plus-hour marathon, one of the wackiest, craziest and most unconventional games in BYU football history, will be the reason why.
In a gut-busting, momentum-swinging and bizarre thriller in front of 33,115 fans at Reliant Stadium, BYU eked out a 47-46 win over previously undefeated Houston when bruised and battered quarterback Taysom Hill threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Skyler Ridley with 1 minute, 8 seconds remaining.
O In a marathon game that lasts more than four hours and features dozens of momentum changes, BYU scores late and then gets a big interception from game-ball recipient Alani Fua to hold off Houston, 47-46.
Linebacker Alani Fua then rescued a BYU defense that gave up 483 yards and 30 points — special teams and BYU’s offense gave up the other 16 points — by intercepting freshman UH quarterback John O’Korn on the next play from scrimmage, Fua’s second huge defensive play in as many weeks, to ensure the blue-clad Cougars would avoid the upset.
"We made plenty of mistakes, enough for a number of games, but we were also resilient enough to overcome them," Mendenhall said. "And that’s the storyline, I think, is we hung in there long enough to make up for our mistakes and win the game."
BYU improved to 5-2 and Houston dropped to 5-1 in a game that went four hours, seven minutes and featured 1,164 yards of offense, 191 total plays (including 115 by BYU, which tied the FBS record) and 64 first downs (including 41 by BYU, which shattered a school record).
"I’ve never been a part of something like that before, but man, it was fun," said BYU quarterback Taysom Hill, who seemingly won and lost the game for the Cougars about a dozen times. "That was really gratifying, to come out and do that [after BYU failed to pull through in the final minutes of its two losses]."
As for Mendenhall, who was clearly relieved after the game, so much so that he threw his cap into the crowd — which was about 60 percent UH fans, 40 percent BYU fans — when he walked over for his postgame television interview.
"Holly [his wife] and I, we looked at each other and said, ‘How much longer do you want to do this?’ And neither one of us had an answer. If there are more of these, there might be a 10-year shortening, or adjusting, in my contract. That sucker, that will take years off it."
Houston took a 38-34 lead at halftime, thanks to Xavier Maxwell’s 69-yard touchdown reception, Derrick Mathews’ 29-yard pick-six of Hill, and a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Demarcus Ayers, but that doesn’t begin to describe the first 30 minutes in which BYU dominated in almost every statistical category, only to see itself trailing a team it was favored to beat by 10 points.
"It was a unique game, and it felt like we had played an entire game by the end of the first half," Hill said.
On a Saturday in which one college team, Grambling, refused to play, Hill made enough big plays, and big mistakes, to fill a season’s worth of highlights. He finished 29 of 44 for four touchdowns and three interceptions, and was sacked eight times.
But he crawled off the turf at the home of the Houston Texans time and again. Trailing 46-41 with 3:26 remaining, BYU’s defense stiffened to force a three-and-out, then caught a break when Houston punter Richie Leone mis-hit a punt, after having pinned the Cougars inside their 10 three times in the second half alone. Leone had helped out the BYU cause by missing a pair of field goals in the second half as well.
So Hill and company took over at midfield, missing running back Jamaal Williams (17 carries for 83 yards and a TD before suffering a hip injury) and threw a 28-yard strike to Ridley before throwing the game-winner two plays later.
After Fua’s interception, madness erupted on BYU’s sideline, and carried into the locker room after BYU rather awkwardly — kneeling, then trying plays out of the shotgun formation — killed the final minute on the clock.
"I can’t describe it — on the sidelines, in the locker room — it was an amazing experience," Ridley said.
Added fellow receiver Ross Apo, who caught two first-half touchdown passes in the return to his home state: "It was a crazy game. It was very, very, very, very long."
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