BYU vs. Utah: Streak over as Beck gets first win vs. Utah
Four years of mostly nothing but gut-wrenching bitterness - the kind that ruined weekends, as John Beck once infamously understated through his tears after another horrendous loss - was buried forever in the most incredible fashion in a venue that made all of the misery darned near unexplainably sweet.
Eleven yards and 3.2 seconds stood between Brigham Young's football team and another classic gag, which has basically defined this once-proud program the last four years. But finally, just as the Cougars were about to get branded losers - at least in the big-game sense - they staged the unthinkable.
Beck's touchdown pass, which came after he seemingly scrambled a mile's worth of Rice-Eccles Stadium turf, to Jonny Harline accounts for more than simply a 33-31 win over Utah on Saturday. With one play, this BYU team rightly secured its place among the program's legendary teams.
"It was four years of hard work for moments like this," said Beck. "It's great to see this BYU win. This is the way it's supposed to be."
The resident BYU historian speaks with authority. After the game, when he finally finished slapping hands with some of the same fans who probably booed him the last three years, Beck recited all the great BYU teams.
Put this group right up there with the best, except for possibly the 1984 national championship team.
"The 2006 team will always be remembered," Beck said. "When look at the posters up at BYU, there's the '84 national championship poster, there's the '83 Holiday Bowl poster, there's the '80 Holiday Bowl poster, and you know what, I'm kind of hoping there might be a 2006 poster with our team and that play on it."
The play of which he speaks also belongs in the annals of BYU history.
Lined up on the right side, Harline wandered into the left corner, where he stood alone for what seemed like several seconds. Scrambling west to east and back again twice, looking like he was a human car conducting a driving test through cones, Beck kept exploring his options.
One year ago, in a similar situation against Utah in overtime, he rushed a fourth-down pass than bounced off the grass in LaVell Edwards Stadium's north end zone. Drawing on his experience, the senior perfectly carried out Robert Anae's call.
"Just run around and get open," said Anae, BYU's second-year offensive coordinator.
Beck lofted the ball to his tight end, who dropped to his knees to catch a touchdown that touched off bedlam along BYU's sidelines.
It wasn't exactly Jim McMahon-to-Clay Brown in the 1980 Holiday Bowl, but it was just as sweet as any other play that is stored in BYU folklore.
"This was a classic game," said Eric Weddle, Utah's defensive back, who also plays part-time quarterback. "Both teams made comebacks and showed a lot of character.
"On the last play, we dropped eight and had them covered well. They just found a way to get open. This is one to remember; it was one of the greatest games in this rivalry. Beck did a good job tonight and won the game at the end. He earned a lot of respect."
And so did the Utes, who finished the regular-season at 7-5 (5-3 in the Mountain West) and are most likely bound for the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 23 in Forth Worth, Texas. The double-digit underdog almost stunned BYU for the second consecutive season.
The Utes twice answered BYU, erasing a 14-0 deficit in the first quarter and 27-24 in the game's final three minutes. Brett Ratliff engineered a beautiful drive on Utah's last possession, covering 83 yards in nine plays.
Only problem, they left the Cougars 69 seconds. In sequence, Beck had completions to Bryce Mahuika, Harline twice (including on fourth-and-4) and to McKay Jacobson to set up the last play.
"I couldn't think of a more fitting way for this rivalry to play out," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. "For the last two years, you've seen two teams fight their hearts out and have it come down to the last play."
And, in the case of this year, one play that BYU will remember forever.
BYU 33, Utah 31
* IN SHORT: BYU finishes the regular season undefeated in Mountain West play and 10-2 overall.
* KEY MOMENT: What else could it be? John Beck's 11-yard touchdown pass to Jonny Harline with no time left.
* KEY STAT: On BYU's last drive, Johnny Harline had three receptions for 35 yards.