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BYU football: Hall caps career in blaze of glory

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BYU quarterback Max Hall, shown avoiding a sack attempt by Oregon State's Gabe Miller in Tuesday night's Las Vegas Bowl, earned MVP honors in his final game as a Cougar.

BYU quarterback Max Hall, shown avoiding a sack attempt by Oregon State’s Gabe Miller in Tuesday night’s Las Vegas Bowl, earned MVP honors in his final game as a Cougar.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

LAS VEGAS — As BYU senior quarterback Max Hall was writing the final chapter of his career Tuesday at the Las Vegas Bowl — a 44-20 triumph over No. 16 Oregon State that capped another 11-2 campaign — fans and observers were left to wonder about his place in Cougar football history.

In his three years as a starter, Hall won more games (32) than any other Cougar QB. He's only the second quarterback, along with Jim McMahon, to lead BYU to two bowl victories.

Yet some may point out that he won just one Mountain West Conference championship and failed to lead the Cougars to a Bowl Championship Series berth.

To coach Bronco Mendenhall, Hall's performance (19-of-30 passing for 192 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions) against the Beavers, which earned him the bowl's MVP honors, this victory in the Las Vegas Bowl speaks volumes and should leave a lasting impression.

"If Max had to be judged by any one game, I'd use this one," Mendenhall said. "You saw some of the hits that he took, you saw the way he led our team to a convincing victory on this stage.

"My hope is if there are comments (about Hall), they would be based on this football game and how he responded and then it can be substantiated by being the winningest quarterback in BYU history, if there's anyone looking for other evidence that this wasn't enough."

At the same time, Mendenhall added, this effort wasn't much different from the slew of other performances by Hall during his time in Provo.

"This is just the next manifestation of a great player, a great quarterback and a great person," said Mendenhall, explaining the only difference in this one was that more people were able to watch Tuesday's contest because it was on national television.

Some may remember Hall for his inflammatory statements about Utah after BYU beat the Utes, 26-23 in overtime, last month — which, for a time, overshadowed his 25-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to Andrew George.

But Hall's teammates say they will remember his contributions to the program. They were thrilled with the way he played in his final game as a Cougar.

"I feel great for Max. He's taken a lot of flak, most of it undeserved," said senior defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen. "I couldn't be happier for him. If there was anybody that I wanted to be the MVP and have a great game, it was Max."

Just as Hall faced adversity during his career in Provo, he dealt with adversity again Tuesday night at Sam Boyd Stadium — in the form of hard hits delivered by OSU defenders, and in the form of a fierce wind provided by the elements that made almost every pass an adventure.

And Hall rose above all that.

In the third quarter, he absorbed a shot to his midsection as he was sacked. For a moment, it appeared that the durable Hall — who never missed a start in three years — would have to come out of the game as he momentarily wobbled around on the turf.

"I thought I was going to throw up. It was one of the hardest hits I've taken," said Hall. "Luckily, I had a few moments to regroup."

On the next play, he threw a perfect strike to his trusted target — and brother-in-law, tight end Dennis Pitta — for a 17-yard touchdown to put BYU up 30-7.

"Dennis made a great route adjustment. He saw cover-two and the safety split and he took it up the middle of the field, just like we've practiced for four years," Hall said. "That's a throw I've made to Dennis one hundred times in football games."

That sequence exemplified Hall's career.

"Max battled all night. He took a lot of big hits," Pitta said. "He's a warrior. We love Max for how he is on the field, for the competitor that he is and the leader that he is. He came in right after that (hit) and threw a touchdown pass. So I give a ton of credit to him."

BYU's seniors made a multitude of big plays against Oregon State, including linebacker Matt Bauman's game-changing, scoop-and-score in the first quarter on a Jacquizz Rodgers fumble. Fullback Manase Tonga scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns. This group was motivated to go out as winners and played with a passion that was missing in last year's 31-21 Las Vegas Bowl loss to Arizona.

"We had an emotional win a few weeks ago against Utah. When that game was over, we wanted to feel that again," said senior safety Scott Johnson, who recorded a fourth-quarter interception and a 56-yard return. "We didn't want it to be the end of it.

"We wanted to play well (in the Las Vegas Bowl). That's something we focused on — everyone remembers your last game. This was the last game for the seniors. It didn't matter what we did three weeks ago against Utah, it mattered what we did (Tuesday). The seniors came together, played with a lot of emotion and prepared well, and it was one of the funnest games I've been a part of with that group of guys."

Following Tuesday's victory, Hall stood on a makeshift podium on the field, accepting the MVP award, and wearing a 150-watt smile while surrounded by a sea of BYU fans who enthusiastically chanted, "Max! Max! Max!"

Hall's career is in the books, and it's time to say goodbye.

"It's tough, it really is. I've thoroughly enjoyed, and loved, my career at BYU and the people I've been around," he said. "Those are relationships that I'll cherish the rest of my life. The support from fans and family and everybody has been unbelievable.

"Being a BYU quarterback is a unique position, unlike any other. You deal with the bad stuff and the good stuff. You let emotion out sometimes and you have to keep it in sometimes. It's been a great ride. I'll always cherish my time at BYU."

e-mail: jeffc@desnews.com