Only a ridiculous-and-memorable college football game truly deserving of it could respectably invoke a famous line from Humphrey Bogart in the classic 1942 movie, Casablanca.
Play it again, Sam.
And even though Bogart never really uttered that exact line in the film, everybody thinks he did, and it fits perfectly on many levels with BYU’s 27-17 win over Arizona State at crazed LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday night, where and when the Cougars and their fans featured a white-out in a white house.
A casa blanca.
Let’s take you straight to a series of three sequences at the turn of the third to fourth quarters and straight through to the end to justify and explain. What happened, even if you saw it with your own eyes as it took place, is absolutely worth the review.
Through that span, BYU was driving to extend its four-point lead, looking for a way to somehow extinguish any threat from the Sun Devils as the tight game ticked toward conclusion.
The first of it came as BYU was making its move, churning down the field via a mixture of Jaren Hall passes and runs and then …
… Hall danced around before throwing a dumb pass straight into the arms of an ASU defender who returned it some 70 yards down the sideline when, all of a sudden, BYU running back Tyler Allgeier dove toward the back of said defender, chopping the ball loose and onto the ground, where a hustling Hall plopped on it to regain possession.
OK, that’s something you almost never see, a two-turnover play.
A two-turnover play it again, Sam.
Devouring more clock, BYU drove the ball down the field, again, in an effort to do what it originally planned to do — ice the game with a score.
Just when it appeared as though they might do exactly that, the Cougars were suddenly stopped, forced to punt. When BYU, in turn, did the same to ASU, the Cougars got the ball back and … played it again.
This time, the song was sweet.
In a similar fashion to what it did against Utah the week before, with the game on the line, BYU took the ball from its own 23-yard line, hammering it over the remaining length of the field, sacrificing all it had to get the victory-clinching touchdown.
And sacrifice it did, when Hall was injured — or had the wind knocked out of him — after picking up a huge first down and wobbling off the field, having fallen short of the goal line. In his place, backup quarterback Baylor Romney entered the game and closed the thing with a scoring pass to tight end Isaac Rex, handing one more win to BYU.
An elated Kalani Sitake, yet hopeful that Hall would be OK, said afterward: “We’re really thankful our guys responded in the right way.”
That’s exactly what the Cougars were and did.
They showed poise, focus and leadership, beating a talented-if-flawed Arizona State team, a team that rolled up 426 yards of offense against BYU’s 361, but that also committed four turnovers and four fistfuls of penalties, struggling in a loud-and-crowded building to properly execute basic plays.
And BYU couldn’t have cared less about the visitors’ problems.
The taste of another triumph was too satisfying. One more significant win, not against some Pollywog State or Howdy Doody Tech, rather against the 19th-ranked Sun Devils.
It’s a burnt joke by now, one that is funny only to BYU. But laugh the Cougars will, and laugh they should.
They’re a breath away from winning the Pac-12 South.
That means something to them for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is because the weak schedule the Cougars were forced into playing last season, through no fault of their own, needs substantiating against legitimate foes. But there’s more.
Going undefeated in three attempts is validation, not solely for last year, but for this season, too, especially since BYU has now taken down two of the South divisional favorites — in rival Utah and now ranked Arizona State, in addition to Arizona. USC lingers late in the regular season, so that hurdle will have to wait, along with a middling match against league northerners Washington State.
Those challenges can wait.
In the here and now, BYU looks good. Looks damned good.
It’s not a flawless group, at times not seeming as athletic as some others, including a number of the skill-position players for ASU, but this much is true about the Cougars: They play authentic football. Yeah, they get creative with bits of their play-calling — you saw the razzle-dazzle on the handoff-and-two-pitches-back-to-Hall play that resulted in a touchdown throw on Saturday night — but they can advance the ball by passing it and running it.
In that game-clinching drive, BYU, which struggled on the ground over stretches of the game, pounded the rock down the Devils’ throats. And then, as mentioned, Romney punctuated the thing with a tender pass. The Cougars play punch-you-in-the-face defense, too.
All of which is beautiful to Sitake, and to every other Cougar.
Looking that way is decorated further by the knowledge within this BYU outfit that its program has been shunned for any number of reasons by the Pac-12, seen, ironically enough, as eager to join, standing by the door, knocking, but found unworthy to be invited in.
The league’s teams have wanted to play the Cougars, to schedule them, to benefit from their multitude of fans coming through their home turnstiles, been willing to lean in and kiss them on the lips, but always, ultimately, leaning away from them when it came time to seal the deal.
As it turns out, BYU, having found another lover in the Big 12, is now making the Pac-12 pay. The scorner is being scorned by the scorn-ee.
It was ASU’s turn to have its toll extracted on Saturday night.
The Devils rolled in feeling pretty good about themselves, having beaten two inferior opponents in weeks past. Their offense, in particular, was thought to be capable of moving the ball at their pleasure on the ground and through the air, at the whim of quick quarterback Jayden Daniels, surrounded as he is by capable playmakers.
Move it, they did. Scoring it was another matter.
They scrounged just two touchdowns, limited by their own errors. But errors typically don’t just happen, all willy-nilly. They often are caused by a team trying to do more than it actually can against a formidable opponent. Although, you would expect Arizona State to be able to snap the ball without a thousand false starts and illegal procedures, even if a squadron of F-15EX Eagle II fighters were taking off overhead.
The Cougars made their own mistakes, too, including some herky-jerky offensive possessions, a couple of interceptions and a dropped touchdown pass. But they gathered themselves when that gathering was required.
BYU, then, has the double-barreled satisfaction that comes from its own success — as well as its invitation to a P5 league — and the schadenfreude attendant with jabbing teams from the league that rejected it straight in the grille.
The Cougars would never admit to that now, not with more work directly at their feet. They would say they are handling their immediate business, that is all, the business straight ahead of them.
In truth, winning three consecutive games against Pac-12 teams at present won’t prove to some that they are 100-percent worthy of an invitation to any party or any membership, not really, not in any permanent way. Nor will it extinguish the real reasons some school presidents have rejected them.
But it will and does edge BYU in a proper direction, toward a proper standing as it pertains to playing proper football. It makes the Big 12 look more than desperate, it makes the Big 12 look pretty smart for opening the door.
It indicates that the Cougars’ partnership with that league is, to quote Bogey, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.