For this former BYU tight end, catching game-winning TD in wild comeback vs. Utah State never gets old
Even from way Down Under, where he is currently serving as a Latter-day Saint mission president, Gabe Reid remembers the play like it was yesterday
Former BYU tight end Gabe Reid couldn’t be any farther away from his greatest college football memory. And yet, when offering some lighthearted, trash-talking to his younger brother Jared, the grand event seems like only yesterday.
Cougars, Ags on the air
at Utah State (3-1)
Friday, 7 p.m. MDT
Maverik Stadium, Logan
Radio: KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM
Reid is serving as mission president in Sydney, Australia, with his wife, Heather. He will be 8,044 miles from Maverik Stadium on Friday night when BYU and Utah State kick off for the 90th time in the football rivalry. Nineteen years ago, he was only yards away from Jared Reid when he made history.
Gabe Reid caught a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to help the Cougars beat the Aggies 35-34 after trailing 34-7 at halftime.
“Hands down, the touchdown at Utah State is at the top of my list and for two reasons,” Reid said from his mission home in Sydney. “First, it gave us the largest comeback in school history, and second, my little brother was on the other sideline watching it.”
Jared Reid, one of Gabe’s 12 siblings from Pago Pago, American Samoa, was a walk-on fullback and suited up that night for Utah State at then Romney Stadium. He had an unobstructed view of the comeback in front of a sold-out crowd of 30,341 and as big brother said, “I joke with him about it all the time.”
Tale of two halves
Utah State dominated the first half against the Cougars, scoring 31 points in the second quarter alone. Jerome Dennis returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown as time expired to give the Aggies a 34-7 lead.
To this day, the 31 points remains BYU’s largest halftime deficit in the last 31 years.
“We were sitting in the locker room at halftime and listening to them (Utah State) cheering through the thin wall like they had won the game. But when it was over, they had to sit there and listen to our cheers.” — former BYU tight end Gabe Reid
“We were sitting in the locker room at halftime and listening to them (Utah State) cheering through the thin wall like they had won the game,” Reid said. “But when it was over, they had to sit there and listen to our cheers.”
Star receiver Reno Mahe called the team to attention.
“We woke up and realized we are actually playing Utah State. We are not going to lose to those guys. We had too many friends on their team,” he said. “That was back in the day when BYU was BYU and I think Kalani (Sitake) has brought that back.”
“The first half was so catastrophic,” Engemann said. “But I went up to coach (Gary) Crowton and said, ‘Don’t even think about pulling me out of this game!’ Coach said, ‘Well, we better start scoring.’”
The Cougars responded with a pair of touchdown runs by Curtis Brown in the third quarter. Brown finished the game with 217 yards on 33 carries in his first start at BYU.
“I don’t think any of us doubted at halftime that we could win the game,” Reid said. “We were running the ball pretty good. We just weren’t converting.”
Receiver Toby Christensen opened the fourth quarter with a touchdown pass off a pitch from Mahe in the backfield to Jason Kukahiko to pull BYU within 34-28 with 9:55 remaining.
“When we started getting the momentum back you could feel the life in the Aggies slip away,” said Mahe, who finished the game with five receptions for 102 yards. “All the confidence was with us. It was like we were playing with an extra player, maybe two players, and they (Utah State) were playing with their doubts.”
The winning catch
Reid’s expertise in the BYU offense was as a blocking tight end. But with less than seven minutes remaining, he heard his number called in the huddle.
“I knew it was a great play call and the way we were running the ball I figured I would be open,” Reid said. “As I stepped down to block, everybody shifted to the left and I knew I would be open to the right.”
Engemann looked on as Reid made his move.
“When I came out of the play-action fake, I remember seeing how wide open he was and as I threw the ball I thought, ‘Oh crap, did I put enough on this one?’” Engemann said. “I floated it out there and luckily it got there just in the nick of time.”
Reid had similar anxiety on the other end of the play.
“I felt like the ball was floating in slow motion,” he said. “I thought, ‘Please don’t drop it.’ I caught it with my body instead of my hands because I was so scared, I would drop it.”
Reid didn’t drop it. The 18-yard touchdown completed the Cougars’ largest comeback since they first suited up to play football in 1922.
“He was always the bruiser as far as a blocker at tight end,” said Mahe. “It was fun to see him get rewarded for all the work he put in.”
Called to serve
The Reids are several months into their three-year assignment as mission president in COVID-19-stricken Sydney, Australia. The country, and the mission, has been on lockdown since their arrival. All communication is done through Zoom, but as with the 2002 comeback, momentum can change things quickly.
“Momentum is not something tangible, but it is a feeling of hope and confidence that things are going to go our way,” Reid said. “It’s when you feel you have angels on your side. Even during the lockdown, we have felt a momentum shift. When we come out of it, we are going to be a very different mission.”
With vaccinations increasing, the COVID-19 restrictions in Sydney will loosen Oct. 5 to permit outdoor gatherings of up to five people. By Oct. 18, inside gatherings up to five people will be allowed.
The Reids are caretakers of 92 missionaries. The number will grow to over 100 next month but remains far short of the typical 300 for the mission, pre-coronavirus.
While there are still missionaries the Reids have yet to meet in person, Reid credits technology for keeping everybody connected and BYU football for preparing him.
“Just being a walk-on helped teach me the importance of working hard. I trusted that the Lord, at the time, wanted me to play football at BYU,” he said. “Today, this is where the Lord wants me to be. My football background has helped open doors with people and with our missionaries. People love BYU football over here. I’m trying to get the team to come over and play an exhibition game.”
Even Cougars coach Kalani Sitake has been among Reid’s featured Zoom speakers at mission conferences.
The pioneer feeling
It’s appropriate that the trophy for tonight’s game is an old pioneer wagon wheel. Not only has Reid helped secure the wheel to BYU’s possession, but he also remains a pioneer himself.
Reid is the only mission president to have played in the Super Bowl, although his memory is shaded by a specific play during the Bears-Colts showdown in 2007.
“The Colts did a squib kick and the ball rolled to me,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is my claim to fame!’ There were 90 million people watching, including all of Samoa. A teammate missed a block and a guy hit me and I felt the ball slip out of my hands and I couldn’t grab it back in time.”
A steady drizzle didn’t help matters either. But Reid is quick to point out that the Colts fumbled the ball right back to the Bears on the very next play.
The here and now
It’s been 6,937 days since Reid’s catch sank the Aggies on Oct. 4, 2002, and made BYU history. If you ask Gabe, that moment in the end zone never gets old. But for little brother Jared, it never goes away — and Gabe makes sure of that, even from the other side of the world.
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “After Further Review,” co-host for “Countdown to Kickoff” and the “Postgame Show” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv.