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THE SWEET TASTE OF FREEDOM: DYSON ANSWERS THE CALL WHEN UTES NEED A HERO

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On a fourth-down-and-goal, last-chance, step-up-now-or-forever-live-in-shame desperation try, they called the play in the huddle: jumbo scramble zone pass right.

It wasn't necessarily a play the Utes had committed to memory. In fact, they had just learned the play last week. Half the team came out of the huddle wondering if they were running a play or ordering the breakfast special at Denny's.But since it was late in the game, and since Utes had one last chance to win their first bowl game in 30 years, they weren't being choosy. They'd give it a try. Center Lance Scott, caught up in the moment, announced he was looking for a few good men. He was drawing a line in the sand and asking for volunteers.

"Who wants to be hero?" said Scott.

To which wide receiver Kevin Dyson, a redshirt freshman who has played all of 12 games in his college career, replied, "Me."

Under most circumstances, Dyson's impertinence may have been slightly out of line. Isn't this where the veteran of many battles long forgotten steps up and offers his services? But in this case, Dyson wasn't waiting. He jumped before anyone else could speak.

"I knew I was going to catch it," he would say later.

So the outcome of the 1994 Freedom Bowl was decided on a pass play with 3:34 left, giving the Utes a 16-13 win over Arizona. Quarterback Mike McCoy dropped back, and seeing at least two other possible receivers immersed in a cloud of Arizona-blue jerseys, rolled out to the right. He was grabbed by nose guard Chuck Osborne, who began pulling him down.

Not to be denied, McCoy tossed off a wobbly pass that had the aerodynamics of a wounded pheasant. It weaved and listed and generally took its time getting to its destination. Dyson, coming in from the sideline, reached up with his right hand and brought the ball in for the winning score. He then sprinted the width of the end zone, not only celebrating the moment but making sure he'd be on the 11 o'clock highlights for an extra five seconds that night.

"I didn't see it coming at first. Then when it came, I thought he was throwing it away," Dyson said. "And then I one-handed it."

That the Utes would end up scoring at all, much less late in the game with time dissolving, wasn't necessarily a good bet. For most of the night, they moved like the wheels of justice.

Everywhere McCoy looked, he saw the Wildcats' renowned Desert Swarm defense in his face. Twelve times McCoy or another Ute ended up going south on a northbound play. The Utes' only previous points had come after an Arizona fumble and on a deliberate Arizona safety.

The problem wasn't just failing to score, it was failing to move. Like the Wasatch Fault, they were advancing at a rate of one yard every 5 million years.

"They were all over us the whole game," McCoy said.

If it was any consolation to the Utes - who totaled just 39 yards in offense through three quarters - their opponent wasn't exactly rolling up the yards, either. The Wildcats had just 176 yards when the pivotal play arrived. It was a game made in inertia heaven; a three-hour and 15-minute laboratory on defense. Desert Swarm against Deseret Swarm.

"We just couldn't move the ball," added McCoy.

But that was before freshman Cal Beck ran the free kick after the safety back 72 yards and McCoy unloaded the pass as he was falling to the ground. And before Dyson drew in the pass like an outfielder shagging a liner to right.

So after 30 years of waiting, the Utes were back in the business of winning bowls. Their run of bowl losses to Pac-10 schools ended at two. They came, they saw Knott's Berry Farm, they conquered.

"This is history right here, buddy," coach Ron McBride said 30 minutes after the game, still clutching the game ball to his ribs. "This is history."

As McBride finished up his post-game speech, fighting back the tears, he turned matters over to linebacker Marcus Woods, who delivered a prayer that would have rated a 10 down the street at the Crystal Cathedral. He expressed gratitude for the fans, the administration, the ushers, the ticket-takers, the equipment managers, the trainers and everyone else except maybe the media. Gratitude has its limits. Then he wrapped it up with a flourish.

"We just wanna say thank you, because you had your eye on your favorite team tonight," he said. "Amen."

And with that, everyone on the team agreed. It was a night for gratitude on all fronts. They'd pulled off a miracle and won a bowl game. They'd shocked the critics. And most of all, they'd made friends with someone they hope keeps his eye on their team for years to come.