‘We’re going to win this game’: Remembering BYU’s stunning 14-13 upset of No. 3 Oklahoma in 2009
Max Hall predicted the big win, while McKay Jacobson ‘called’ his game-winning TD catch months prior
The name of the play was “Winston,” a name that quarterback Max Hall came up with for no apparent reason in the week leading up to No. 20 BYU’s 2009 college football opener at the brand-new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, against No. 3 Oklahoma.
Why Hall chose to name a play after a brand of cigarettes for guys who don’t smoke isn’t clear. Maybe it was because they could easily put it on one of those signs used to signal in plays, one former player surmised.
“We just beat the No. 3 team in the country. It’s just unbelievable. It’s a special moment I will never forget. None of us will.” — former BYU quarterback Max Hall
What is now known is that Winston worked. Boy, did it work.
After having boldly proclaimed that “We’re going to win this game” multiple times to a throng of BYU fans and ESPN cameras as BYU players ran off the field at halftime, trailing 10-7, Hall backed up his bravado less than two hours later.
He found receiver McKay Jacobson wide open at the back of the end zone for the game-winning touchdown pass with 3:03 remaining. Final score: No. 20 BYU 14, No. 3 Oklahoma 13.
“Winston worked like a charm,” Jacobson said 14 years later.
The 7-yard TD strike and Mitch Payne’s PAT gave 22-point underdog BYU a 14-13 lead, and when OU’s kicker came up short on a 54-yard field goal try with 1:28 left, the Cougars celebrated one of the biggest wins in school history in front of 75,437 fans, about three-fourths of them clad in crimson and cream.
“We figured they would be in zone coverage, because that was one of the coverages they liked to run (near the end zone),” Jacobson said Monday from his home in Lehi, where he now works for a consulting company doing corporate finance.
“We installed that play the week before, wanting to attack the zone at the goal line and the back of the end zone,” he said. “I think we huddled before the play, and Max called ‘Winston’ and we knew what to do. So that was pretty cool.”
As he exited the first-ever game played at “Jerry World,” Hall could hardly contain his exuberance. He and head coach Bronco Mendenhall shared hugs and high-fives as OU fans sat in eerie silence and BYU fans made the massive stadium their own.
“We just beat the No. 3 team in the country,” Hall said. “It’s just unbelievable. It’s a special moment I will never forget. None of us will.”
Fourteen years, two months and two weeks after that epic Sept. 5, 2009, upset, BYU and Oklahoma will meet again Saturday in Provo (10 a.m. MST, ESPN), and the odds are roughly the same. The No. 14-ranked Sooners (8-2) are 24-point favorites over the reeling Cougars (5-5) on Senior Day at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Unlike in 2009, few are expecting a BYU upset. After all, the Cougars have lost three straight and four of their last five, the four losses all coming by at least 29 points.
But there’s always hope. Not that the Cougars were banking on that in 2009. They had “supreme confidence,” Hall said.
In the days leading up to that game, Hall privately told a couple of reporters to expect an upset, even though the Sooners had 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford on their side. He boldly predicted that he would outplay the superstar because BYU had a veteran defense and OU’s defense was trying to replace a lot of starters.
More on Bradford and his unfortunate meeting with BYU linebacker Coleby Clawson in a minute.
Hall, Jacobson and several other players who shined in that 2009 win have said that one key to the upset was that the Cougars expected to win, having prepared for nearly nine months for the opener.
“We obviously had that game circled the entire offseason,” said Brandon Ogletree, a redshirt freshman linebacker in 2009. “We just had so much swagger going into that season. … All offseason, through summer workouts, everyone just had a ton of confidence.”
Ogletree, who now works for a solar company in Utah County, said there was one major reason for the team’s confidence: Max Hall.
“Max is the prototypical guy you want as the captain of your team and your quarterback,” Ogletree said. “I mean, Max just had all the confidence in the world.”
That confidence rubbed off on the rest of the Cougars, so much so that by the time the game rolled around, even though Oklahoma had gone 12-2 the previous season and played in the 2008 national championship game, a 24-14 loss to Florida, “Max had convinced every player on the team that we were going to be beat OU,” Ogletree said. “I will never forget that.”
Turns out, Jacobson had also made a similar prediction.
‘I am wide open — throw me the ball’
The Cougars started the 2008 season with high hopes, and were 6-0 and ranked No. 9 in the country before a humiliating 32-7 loss at No. 24 TCU that crushed their dreams of making it to a BCS bowl game. A month later, they were drubbed 48-24 by No. 7 Utah, and the season ended with a 31-21 loss to Arizona in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Shortly after that, star receiver Austin Collie declared for the NFL draft, so expectations for 2009 were not quite as high.
Somebody forgot to tell Hall and company that.
Jacobson said just before fall camp began, he returned to his hometown of Southlake, near Dallas, because his father had set up a tour of the newly opened Cowboys Stadium for him and his family.
One of his pee-wee football coaches had played for the Cowboys in the early 1980s, and was able to get the family on the field.
As he stood in the end zone, Jacobson decided to give Hall a call, to tell his quarterback where he was at.
“He didn’t answer, so I left a voice message saying, ‘Hey, I am in the end zone at Cowboys Stadium. I am wide open. Throw me the ball,’” Jacobson said.
It was in that exact end zone, almost at the same spot, where he would catch the game-winner from Hall about six weeks later.
“So that was a fun memory of how you visualize things and then they just happen,” Jacobson said.
Another of Jacobson’s memories was that the TD was redemption for a crucial mistake he made early in the game, a fumbled punt return. Oklahoma’s Brandon Caleb recovered the ball at the BYU 35 and five plays later Ryan Broyles caught an 8-yard pass from Bradford to give OU a 7-0 lead with 4:56 left in the first quarter.
Jacobson also caught a 49-yard pass from Hall in the second quarter that set up BYU’s first touchdown with a few minutes left in the first half, a 5-yard pass to tight end Andrew George.
Jimmy Stevens’ 35-yard field goal with two seconds left in the first half sent OU into the locker room with a 10-7 lead, but didn’t change Hall’s thinking.
Defense dominates the second half
Ogletree and most of his defensive mates didn’t see Hall’s halftime exit, but they weren’t surprised when they heard about it later. That’s because he continued the exhorting throughout halftime.
“We are going to win. We are going to win,” Ogletree said. “I just remember him saying that on repeat, like 1,000 times. I was like, ‘Yup, we are going to win.’ If Max says it, we are.”
Part of the reason for the defense’s optimism was that two plays before the OU field goal at the end of the first half, BYU linebacker Coleby Clawson — now the school’s director of sports performance — hit Bradford just after a pass and then fell on the prized QB, causing a Grade 3 sprain of his right shoulder.
BYU played without one of its stars — running back Harvey Unga sat out with a hamstring injury — but Jacobson remembers how walk-on Bryan Kariya filled in admirably, running for 42 yards and posting 76 receiving yards. Linebacker Matt Bauman, leading tackler in 2008, sustained a concussion early in the game and never returned.
Bradford later had season-ending surgery, and the Sooners finished the regular season 7-5 before upsetting Stanford 31-27 in the Sun Bowl with Jarvis Landry at quarterback.
Neither team scored in the third quarter. At the start of the fourth quarter, Hall was picked off and OU took over at the BYU 27. Oklahoma had a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line, but couldn’t punch it in and settled for another field goal to take a 13-7 lead.
Making his first career start, Jordan Pendleton broke up a pass on first down, while Brett Denney and Romney Fuga came up with back-to-back stops.
“We were the more physical team and we knew that,” Ogletree said, noting that the focus pregame was as much on stopping star OU running back DeMarco Murray as it was on stopping Bradford.
Murray, who is now OU’s running backs coach, ran 10 times for 58 yards.
“You look at the dudes on the front seven that year, you had Jordan Pendleton, Coleby Clawson, Jan Jorgensen, Brett Denney. Those dudes aren’t getting knocked back,” Ogletree said. “Once we made the first couple of stops, I was like, ‘Dude, these guys aren’t scoring.’”
Said Denney, after the game: “We were kind of expecting them to score a few more points; our defense played out of its head.”
Can current Cougars draw some inspiration?
Hall, Jacobson and Ogletree hope the current Cougars can draw some inspiration from the 2009 upset as Oklahoma plays for the first time ever in the state of Utah. But they aren’t holding their breath.
This team clearly is not as talented as that 2009 squad, which also featured offensive linemen Nick Alletto, Matt Reynolds, Terence Brown and Braden Brown, receiver O’Neill Chambers, RBs J.J. DiLuigi and Manase Tonga, tight end Dennis Pitta, defenders Vic So’oto, Shawn Doman and Terrance Hooks, outstanding punter Riley Stephenson and defensive backs Andrew Rich, Brian Logan, Brandon Bradley and Craig Bills.
Cougars on the air
No. 14 Oklahoma (5-2, 8-2)
at BYU (2-5, 5-5)
Saturday, 10 a.m. MST
LaVell Edwards Stadium
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM
“If I had to distill it down to one thought, it is this: Everyone on the team would have been shocked if we didn’t win that game,” Ogletree said. “That team was full of guys who believed in themselves, and each other.”
Like Jacobson, Ogletree also grew up in the Metroplex and dreamed of playing at the home of the Dallas Cowboys. He acknowledges that he wasn’t a big reason why the Cougars won, having only played a few downs from scrimmage and on special teams.
But he also has his own personal favorite memory.
“Running down on the opening kickoff, I was in on the first tackle of the game,” he said. “I’ve told my kids about that. Now, whenever we watch the Cowboys play, my kids always remind me that I made the first tackle in that stadium. My 5-year-old reminds me of that all the time.”
Because it was the game nobody associated with BYU will ever forget.