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‘Legend of Drew Lisk’ born as Utah football rallies for season-ending win behind ex-Jordan High QB

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes quarterback Drew Lisk (12) scrambles as Washington State Cougars defensive end Ron Stone Jr. (10) defends, in PAC-12 football acton between Utah Utes and Washington State Cougars at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020.

Drew Lisk got his curtain call, just not the one he and the Utah Utes expected.

It had been proposed by some fans that Lisk, a graduate of Jordan High, might be able to enter late in Saturday’s game against Washington State — long after a win was sewn up — and mark the end of his lengthy career with the Utes with a celebration on the field.

Well, Lisk did finish the season, and likely his Utah career, on the turf at Rice-Eccles Stadium. And the quarterback did celebrate the Utes’ 45-28 victory in the teams’ Pac-12 finale.

But it wasn’t all just for show.

“You saw the legend of Drew Lisk was born in the second half,” coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He’ll be able to tell that story for years, how he came in and rallied the troops.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes linebacker Nephi Sewell (29), and Utah Utes defensive end Mika Tafua (42) celebrate a pick 6 touchdown by Utah Utes cornerback Clark Phillips III, in PAC-12 football acton between Utah Utes and Washington State Cougars at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020.

Lisk was called in for Utah’s final possession of the first half as a Hail Mary. The redshirt senior who started his career as a walk-on in 2016 and wasn’t put on scholarship until 2018 was charged with reviving a flummoxed and flustered Utes offense that was trailing 28-7 with 1:25 to play in the half.

At that point, starting QB Jake Bentley had completed half his 14 pass attempts for 153 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Those stats were rosier than the actual picture, though. They didn’t include a Bentley fumble that the quarterback recovered for a loss of eight yards to start the second quarter. They didn’t reflect that during one possession while he was under center, Utah committed five penalties on six snaps. They were also somewhat artificially plumped by the graduate transfer’s most impressive play: a 91-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Britain Covey for the team’s only score at the time.

So when Bentley threw an interception in Cougars territory that resulted in a touchdown, Lisk got the call.

Lisk hasn’t started a game in his career. As the Utes’ third-string QB (Cam Rising was named the starter before suffering a season-ending injury in the opening game), he hadn’t gotten in a game yet this season. In addition, he hasn’t had many reps with the first-team offense. Yet he seized the opportunity.

He may have even relished it.

Lisk had, after all, also spent most of his high school career at Jordan behind another quarterback. Despite exhibiting unquestionable talent, he bided his time for three years before getting his chance to shine.

“I’m just going to be me and do what I can do,” he’d told The Salt Lake Tribune as a senior back in 2015, “and our team will have success on our own.”

That strategy works at the college level as well.

With decisiveness and precision, Lisk planted a seed of hope in his teammates. He involved more receivers, like Solomon Enis and Cole Fotheringham, in the game, which opened up other receivers as well as electric freshman running back Ty Jordan (154 yards, three TDs). Furthermore, with Lisk on the field, the Utah offense didn’t incur a single penalty.

No, Lisk didn’t throw a single touchdown pass in leading the comeback. He did, however, finish 15 for 26 for 152 yards. And no, he didn’t do it on his own. The Utes’ defense clamped down hard in the second half to keep the Cougars scoreless, gave the Utes advantageous field position and even added to the scoring tally with Clark Phillips’ pick-6.

But he got his curtain call. And in postgame interviews he earned the equivalent of a standing ovation from his teammates and coach, not just for this victory, but for the career that led up to it.

“It’s not ideal, not playing all the time or right away,” Lisk said. “But in my mind, today was worth it. For five years, today was worth it and I wouldn’t change anything.”

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