LINCOLN — Yes, it was desperation. It was miracle hunting. It was do or die on steroids. But he did it.
BYU freshman Tanner Mangum threw the winning touchdown pass to senior Mitch Mathews with no time left to beat Nebraska 33-28 in Memorial Stadium on Saturday, and the drama was historically profound. Folks are calling it the Mangum Miracle at Memorial.
The play extracted the oxygen out of a sea of red-clad Nebraska faithful and it easily became one of the most storied pass and catch plays in BYU history.
Mangum hadn’t suited up for a competitive football game in four years. In June he was in northern Chile preaching as an LDS Church missionary. He’d thrown just 10 passes in relief of injured senior Taysom Hill to that point against the Cornhuskers. But with no timeouts, behind 28-27 with 76 yards and 48 seconds left in the game, Mangum completed a play he’d never practiced with receivers Mathews, Terenn Houk and Nick Kurtz.
“It wasn’t one of my best throws and it came out kind of wobbly,” said Mangum who said he "had a blast" in his first college football game.
But it was enough to end a 29-year-old season-opener win streak by the Cornhuskers. The last time Nebraska lost an opener, it was the year Internet domain names were created (1985); Mickey Mouse was introduced to China; Mike Tyson fought his first pro boxing match, and, as CBSsports.com national columnist tweeted out: 12 species of lemurs have been discovered since then.
To complete the winning drive, BYU’s offense needed Mangum to pull off numerous tough plays. Those seven plays included an 11-yard Mangum first-down run. It included a gambling play call for Adam Hine to carry on a draw play for 16 to Nebraska’s 49, and Mangum to scamper 7 more to the Husker 42.
The winning play was playground stuff. It just happened, said Mathews.
Houk streaked down one side, Kurtz the other. Matthews, a 6-foot-6 senior with a 36-inch vertical leap, ran across the field and found himself at the goal line in front of Nebraska’s 6-3 redshirt freshman linebacker Luke Gifford. Mathews jumped, grabbed, and came down with the ball. Mathew’s move was no contest for Gifford.
“We should have fronted him,” said Nebraska coach Mike Riley.
That unlikely completed play stunned a crowd of 89,959, an NCAA record 341 consecutive sellout game at Nebraska.
Kurtz jumped on Mathews and as others followed, “I heard Nick screaming,” said Mathews. Houk saw an official signal touchdown and he ran to the man in stripes and hugged him. “I felt more and more weight on me in the pile and knew it was game over,” said Mathews. After a review by the officials validated the catch, BYU’s sideline erupted. In the celebration, Kurtz yelled, “We are on the shelf, we are on the shelf forever. Never give up, never give up.”
Bronco Mendenhall called it the biggest win he’d been associated with. And that includes a win over Oklahoma on this very day in Texas in 2009 and a win on the road at Texas a year ago featuring Hill’s Leap of Faith.
It definitely will be filed away with the John Beck to Jonny Harline and Max Hall to Andrew George game winning plays over Utah. It will be compared to the Jim McMahon Hail Mary to Clay Brown game-winner in the 1980 Holiday Bowl with SMU.
Two years previous, Nebraska receiver Jordan Westerkamp caught a tipped Hail Mary at that exact spot on Tom Osborne Field to lift the Huskers over Northwestern on the final play. “It must be a special spot,” quipped one Omaha TV sportscaster in the postgame interview room.
For Mendenhall, Mathews and Mangum, the elation over the play and win was tempered with the sober news that team captain Hill had suffered a Lisfranc (midfoot) season-ending injury. He did it planting his foot and making a cut during his 21-yard second-quarter touchdown run. He returned and played a handful of series through the fourth quarter. “Our trainers had never heard of anyone doing that,” said Mendenhall.
“Taysom did everything to prepare me,” said Mangum.
“He’ll continue to lead us the rest of the year,” said Mathews.
“There’s no player or person that I’ve coached that I care more about than Taysom,” said Mendenhall. “He allowed us to stay within striking distance (by playing hurt).”
Matthews caught three passes for 69 yards, and 60.8 percent of that came on the final play.
Mangum finished 7 of 11 for 111 yards and one touchdown. He had a long pass of 42 yards.
In Hill’s only game of 2015, he was 21 of 34 for 268 yards and one touchdown. He ran nine times for 72 yards and two touchdowns as the leading rusher for both teams.
On this opening week of college football, it would be hard to find a more exciting, dramatic parlay by two of the winningest programs in the country.
Only fitting it came down to the final play.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at email@example.com.