It was only fitting that the first player to score in the 100th Rose Bowl Game was the game’s only centenarian.
OK, so Britain Covey doesn’t have quite that many years behind him. But the long-toothed University of Utah junior, at 24 likely the oldest player on the turf Saturday, has indicated that it has felt like he’s been looking forward to playing in the Granddaddy of Them All for at least that long.
Another hundred years might have to pass before he forgets it.
Covey punctuated his time with the Utes — which started in 2015 and will end with him forgoing his final season of eligibility to pursue playing time in the NFL — with one of the best games of his career in the biggest game thus far in program history.
And it was almost enough to win.
Instead, a Buckeyes field goal with 12 seconds left doomed the Utes’ explosive Rose Bowl debut as No. 6 Ohio State got the best of No. 11 Utah, 48-45, in Pasadena, Calif.
“A lot to take in,” Covey said in a wavering voice when asked about his emotions in the post-game press conference. “It’s starting to hit me finally. I don’t want to take my pads off.”
The enormity of the historic moment didn’t overcome Covey, who is listed at 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds. He set the tone for a Utah triumph, compiling 252 total yards and two touchdowns. Both scores were momentum-builders. One was the opening score of the game, when he took a pass from quarterback Cam Rising 19 yards into the end zone. That electrified the Utah-heavy crowd and the Utes, who would go on to score touchdowns on their next three possessions. The other was a 97-yard kick return for a score that was smack dab in the middle of a wild run in which the teams traded five TDs in the span of 2 minutes, 43 seconds, or roughly one every 30 seconds.
As Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said, “The fans and the networks got their money’s worth out of that one.”
Covey’s greatest contribution, however, might simply have been, as it has been almost since he arrived on the Salt Lake City campus eons ago, as team leader.
When backup quarterback Bryson Barnes replaced an injured Rising in the fourth quarter with Ohio State closing in on the Utes, Covey was the young signal caller’s steady Eddie. Barnes, a freshman walk-on from Milford, hadn’t attempted a single pass or handoff at the collegiate level. And though he could lean on the running backs to start, with half the fourth quarter to go, he was eventually going to have to throw the ball.
So who was on the receiving end of his first few completions? Covey, of course. Then, once Barnes got the feel of things, he launched a 15-yard pass to Dalton Kincaid in the end zone that tied the game at 45s.
The Buckeyes responded by pushing their way into field-goal range to take the lead with 9 seconds left, however. And as the Utes lined up to receive the kickoff, chants of “Co-vey! Co-vey!” enveloped the stadium. The player whose video game moves had resulted in so many highlight-reel moments over the years might have the chance at one more.
For his part, Covey said he was actually surprised to see the ball come his way. “Usually you get three or four chances,” he said, “and after that they stop kicking to you.”
But the time had finally come for Covey to age out of college football and start looking toward the next step in his career.
He heads to the NFL Draft having amassed 3,989 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns and the respect and admiration of Utes fans everywhere. To put it simply, the old man has grown on them through the years. And the feeling is mutual.
“Just proud of this team and this program and this university. I just have great love for the University of Utah,” he said in the post-game interview, just before the tears began streaking his cheeks and choking his words.
“Sorry,” he managed, “I’m just grateful.”