My fresh-from-sleep excitement and enthusiasm is tempered by the fact I have a long way to go and a lot to do – on top of yet another monthly deadline for the third (October) 48-page issue of TOTAL BLUE SPORTS magazine.
The last time I’ve ever been this “jacked” for any game day was when I was playing 15th grade rugby as an eight-year-old so many years ago in Mangere, a suburb of Auckland, New Zealand.
Right on the button at 5:10 a.m., my traveling road mates Lee “Robbie” Robertson, the president-elect of the Las Vegas Cougar Club, and his father, Lee Robertson Sr., pull up in the darkness in a mini-van. Our next stop is on the other side of the Vegas valley to pick up one of Robbie’s business associates, Van McCarley, traveling to join his family in Spanish Fork, Utah.
What better way to start the day, yawns and all, and set the stage than a video replay in the car of the final game of LaVell Edwards’ final season as the BYU head football coach. To make it more special and memorable, it was against the Utah Utes, the Cougars arch nemesis.
What a game. What a finish. With the Cougars resting a little too comfortably on their laurels with a 26-13 lead going into the 4th quarter, the Utes score twice within a five minute span late in the game to take a 27-27 lead with 1:14 left before stunned Cougar coaches, players and fans.
In what surely will be remembered by ESPN viewers and BYU fans as another classic comeback by the Cougars, it sure was a lot more comforting knowing the outcome before watching that replay.
With 1:04 left and pinned deep inside his own 25 yard line, third string quarterback Brandon Doman calmly faces a 4th down with 13 yards to go. The game is on the line and Ute fans and coaches have to believe they have the game in the bag.
LaVell Edwards stoically looks on with a concerned expression knowing all to well a failed conversion on this play will result in a 5-7 record – only his second losing season in 29 years. A win and BYU goes 6-6 for the season.
Doman steps back from center, rolls to his left to evade hard-charging Utah defenders and throws a 35-yarder to an open Jonathan Pittman. What an amazing 1st down. Wasting no time with 55 seconds left, Doman drops back in the pocket and hurls another 35-plus yarder to a well guarded Pittman, who gets both feet inbounds before he falls over the sideline. Cougar fans can barely believe it.
Next, Doman calls a running play for Luke Staley straight up the gut and the clock winds down. Reliable kicker Owen Pochman is practicing on the sideline, waiting to enter the game at a moment’s notice. 30 seconds to go.
On the next play, Doman rolls right and makes a mad dash straight to the goal line, dragging two Utah defenders as we falls forward for a touchdown with 23 seconds left in the game.
Edwards, who has been expressionless throughout the game, half raises both arms in silent celebration. The Cougar bench is anything but. The score is 32-27. A quick decision is made to go for two. Doman, who is perfect on the closing drive, delivers again to wide receiver Halladay in the end zone.
In their final desperation drive Utah quarterback Darnell Arceneaux keeps it interesting, but a “Hail Mary” pass to the end zone is batted down by two Cougar defenders. Cougar fans, coaches and players erupt in uninhibited joy.
LaVell Edwards is hugged and kissed by his players and even Utah players. His friend and long time rival, Utah head football coach Ron McBride, takes a minute to hug and congratulate Edwards. You can’t help but think if there was anyone he would not mind losing to on such an occasion, it would be this game against Edwards on the final game of his coaching career – and his 257th victory at BYU.
Edwards is then hoisted on the shoulders of players and the program he has carried for 29 years. It is the end of the greatest era of BYU football.
This evening, Edwards’ successor, Gary Crowton, begins year three of his tenure at the helm of the Cougar program against Atlantic Coast Conference member Georgia Tech.
Anticipation and expectations are high, as they always are at BYU this time of year. Both teams are as prepared as they are ever going to be for this game.
The time for speculation and second-guessing is drawing to a close. Kick-off is just a few hours away at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Remaining questions marks may become exclamation marks after the game.
Meanwhile, it’s time to get my game face on, but before I do, I think I’ll take a two hour nap so I’ll be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for what I expect will be BYU’s first “W” of the 2003 football season.
Let the game begin!
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