Dewey Gray sat in front of his locker, wearing a look that bordered somewhere between respect and incredulity. "I run a 4.5 40 on grass," he said. "I'm scared to estimate what he runs it in."
"All the years I've been playing," continued Gray, BYU's weakside safety and designated big-play defender, "I've never had anybody run away from me like that."Gray had seen the enemy and his name was Marshall Faulk. If it hadn't been for Faulk's 299 yards on 35 carries Thursday night in Cougar Stadium, Brigham Young wouldn't have had to walk off the field on the short end of a 45-38 game against San Diego State.
Faulk's most spectacular touchdown run - one of three on the night - came midway through the third quarter when he took a handoff from Aztec quarterback David Lowery and blazed up the middle, steering for the end zone 65 yards away. He got past the line of scrimmage and he got past the linebackers, no problem, but with about 30 yards to go Gray - always the Cougars' stopper of last resort - came out of his rightside blindspot. This was trouble. BYU isn't pushing Gray, a senior, for the national Jim Thorpe Award as the country's best defensive back for no good reasons. This was the same Dewey Gray who had 19 tackles last year when the roof was caving in at Penn State. If it hadn't been for him, the Cougars would have finished that game somewhere in Indiana.
Anyway, here came Gray and here came Faulk and something had to give and . . . . . . quicker than you could say "John Heisman and Jim Thorpe," Faulk was gone. Just like that. Gone. He left Gray looking like a commuter who had missed his train.
"Everything they're saying about him is true," said Gray. "How would I suggest defending him? I would say lock him up in a room and don't let him play."
Gray sighed. It had been a long night. Every time he looked up, Faulk was heading into his zone - the danger zone, the place no running back should ever penetrate while still vertical.
One time Gray was sure he had him cold, only to see Faulk spin-move his way to another 15 yards. Another time he had him inches from stepping out-of-bounds, and then watched him tap-dance his way out of that mess.
Even when Gray and the Cougars finally stopped the unstoppable Marshall Faulk, it still backfired on them.
That happened after the Cougars, behind John Walsh's fifth touchdown pass, inched to within a TD of San Diego State, 45-38, with just over three minutes remaining.
If the Aztecs could hang onto the ball, the game would be theirs. If, on the other hand, they could be stopped on downs and forced to punt, the Cougars would have one last chance.
There wasn't a living organism in all of Utah Valley that didn't know who was going to get the ball First down - Faulk around right end for seven yards.
Second down - Faulk up the middle for four yards.
First down - Faulk to the right for three yards.
Second down - Faulk straight ahead for two yards.
By now just under two minutes remained as BYU took a timeout for damage assessment. It was third down. The Aztecs needed five yards for a first down. On a personal level, Faulk now had 298 yards and needed two more to go over the 300 barrier. Since he was averaging just over nine yards per carry, there was good reason to suspect that on the upcoming play he would get the two he needed, as well as the five.
As for BYU, it needed to get the ball back.
Neither side was lacking for incentives.
Faulk lined up five yards behind the Aztec line, the lone back behind Lowery.
Gray lined up 10 yards deep in the Cougar backfield.
When the ball was hiked, Lowery pitched to Faulk who was moving to his left. Gray took off on a sprint.
"Out of the corner of my eye I saw him (Gray) scrapin' to the outside," said Faulk. "He was angling to the corner. I thought I might have to run outside but then I thought, no, let's stay in bounds."
Gray caught Faulk as he was thinking - he was still four full yards behind the line of scrimmage.
"I had told myself before it started, `I want to make this play,' " said Gray.
The stunned Aztecs had to punt. As punter Scott Oatsvall moved onto the field, Faulk stopped him long enough to offer some advice. "I told him not to think about it, just do it," he said.
"He got off a good one," said Faulk. "He put some nice backspin on it that made it hard to catch, and then we got the fumble. I'd have to say that was the most relieved moment of my life."
He was referring, of course, to the Cougars' fumble of the punt, a fumble that enabled the Aztecs to run out the clock and enabled Faulk to get back the yards, plus one, that Gray had just taken away from him.
So he ended with 299 yards and the Aztecs ended with a win - two things that had never before happened in Provo.
That they both came to pass on the same night was far from a coincidence. As Dewey Gray and a stadium full of new believers would be the first to attest, one couldn't have happened without the other.