Provo • As the crowd enveloped the field, as safety Malik Moore shouted into the midnight air after coming up with the stop that sealed it, Jaren Hall walked away.
He walked away from the pandemonium, away from the coaches pulling on his jersey in celebration, and toward the man that could have won it twice before but didn’t. The quarterback found a sobbing kicker, Jake Oldroyd, and embraced in a moment that encapsulated every Cougar fan’s emotions.
On a night when the Cougars could have won it three times but flirted with heartbreak so often that head coach Kalani Sitake said it aged him, there was finally relief and joy and hope for what’s next.
No. 21 BYU had taken down No. 9 Baylor 26-20 in double-overtime at LaVell Edwards Stadium, thrusting itself into college football’s collective psyche.
“We are here to shake up college football,” defensive lineman Fisher Jackson said. “We are sick of seeing the same four teams [in the playoff].”
“We are an independent school about to go into the Big 12,” he continued. “But I think we have a lot of sleepers. I don’t think people really look at BYU and see a team that is ready to win every game they play. But that is what we are here to do.”
It would be hard to overstate the magnitude of BYU’s victory. The Cougars hadn’t beaten a top-10 team at home since 1990. They hadn’t beaten a Big 12 team — the conference it is about to join — since 2013. Just a season ago, Baylor had embarrassed BYU in Waco.
Now the Cougars could see themselves ranked in the top 15 in the country come Monday, while sending a message to their Power Five foes of the future.
But the way BYU won magnified the statement even more. It beat Baylor without its top two receivers playing. It ran the ball for just 83 yards on 2.5 yards per carry. And it missed two field goals that could have won the game long before the clock crept into Sunday morning.
Yet, for all the things that should have derailed their bid to upset Baylor, the Cougars had enough talent and toughness to pull it off. A defense looking for redemption after last season stood tall against the Bears’ rushing attack. Freshman wide receiver Chase Roberts, with Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney sidelined, ripped off 122 yards receiving, caught a highlight-reel touchdown, and had the presence and touch to throw a trick-play touchdown of his own in just his second collegiate game.
“We had a lot of opportunities to win,” Sitake said. “It was back and forth but we felt good about the matchup.”
The first major opportunity BYU had to win was at the end of regulation. With the game tied at 20 and 2:08 left to play, Hall commanded an 11-play, 72-yard drive to get BYU inside the red zone. He capped it off with a 37-yard completion to Roberts with 18 seconds left. A field goal would have sealed it.
But Oldroyd pushed the 35-yard walk-off kick left and the game went to overtime.
Then the second opportunity came when BYU’s defense forced a Baylor missed field goal and handed Oldroyd a chance at redemption. In nearly the same spot, from 37 yards out, he missed it again.
“I told him he has no reason to hang his head,” running back Lopini Katoa recalled telling Oldroyd as he paced the sidelines.
BYU would get one more chance after that. After Katoa scored a 4-yard touchdown that gave BYU a 26-20 lead in the second overtime, Baylor had a fourth down and three. A stop would have ended it, but BYU allowed a 3-yard rush to extend the game once more.
Then, finally, on a fourth-and-goal from the 11-yard line, Moore forced a final pass to sail over the end zone.
“I don’t know where this ranks,” Sitake said of the win. “Right now it feels the best and most recent. Last year’s game [against Baylor] I made statements of, ‘We have to learn from that.’ I wanted to see that [growth] as a team and as a program. And I saw it.”
“We were good enough tonight to beat Baylor,” he added. “By one play.”
Hall finished 23-for-39 for 261 yards and a touchdown. Chris Brooks finished with 13 carries for 31 yards.
But it wasn’t the typical strongholds that won this game for BYU. It was the run defense that battled a Baylor attack that was intent on running it 52 times, but never broke through. Max Tooley finished with 13 tackles and Ben Bywater added 11.
Baylor finished with 152 rushing yards, with no player going for more than 70 yards.
“We came into this year with something to prove, especially on the run defense,” Tooley said. “We knew this would probably be the biggest test up until this point. And we came in and did what we needed to. … This was history.”
As the fans stormed the field, the players stood at the mouth of the tunnel looking out on the scene they created.
The statement, however difficult it was to make, had been made. All there was left to do was stake their claim on the college football landscape.
“It is a huge statement,” Roberts said. “Whether it is a top 10 ranked team or the last ranked team, we are going to go and win the game. We have done that. We have shown that.”