Mitchell Juergens is 5 feet, 10 inches tall, but on Sept. 12, 2015, there was no one bigger at LaVell Edwards Stadium. During a spirited showdown against No. 20 Boise State, the junior receiver caught four passes for a stunning 184 yards and two memorable touchdowns.

“I saw we had a window. Some open grass. I just did my best to put the ball up toward that space he was running to. Again, I didn’t see the ball being caught, but I heard the crowd erupt. I sat up and saw everybody celebrating with Mitch.” — BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum

One score came in the first minute and the second was caught in the last. Both sent a packed Edwards Stadium into a frenzy, but neither pass was intended to be caught by Juergens. As an undersized target, he was the decoy who turned out to be the hero.

“It was pretty surreal,” Juergens recalls. “As a kid you always dream about having big-time plays in a big rivalry game. I remember when I made the (final) catch I didn’t realize how big of a play it was until I was sitting on the sideline feeling the energy of the crowd and then it hit me, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh!’”

The big night arrived on the heels of two Power Five victories. BYU, with back-up quarterback Tanner Mangum playing for the injured Taysom Hill, won at Nebraska 33-28 on a Hail Mary pass and Boise State defeated Washington 16-13.

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“There was a lot of buzz around Tanner coming into that game after we lost our potential Heisman Trophy candidate in Taysom,” Juergens said. “Here is this freshman, fresh off a mission and to do what he was doing was pretty remarkable.”

Bombs away

After a sack and an incompletion, BYU faced third down and 19 on its opening possession. Offensive coordinator Robert Anae sent in the play “Ace-90,” which called for four vertical routes down the field.

“I lined up in the left slot,” Juergens said. “I’m supposed to pull a safety over to allow for a bigger ball on the outside.”

Mangum took the snap and was flushed out of the pocket.

“I was rolling to the right and saw Mitch streaking from left to right across the field,” Mangum said. “He was always so good at finding those open areas.”

“I was thinking, ‘I hope Tanner sees me,’” Juergens said. “If he does, it’s an easy touchdown.”

Just before going out of bounds, Mangum, throwing off his back foot, launched a pass 65 yards downfield where Juergens grabbed it and dashed to the end zone. The 84-yard touchdown remains the fifth-longest in BYU history.

“I was surprised at how far Tanner threw that ball,” Juergens said. “When he let it go, I had to course correct and get up the field even further.”

Mangum threw it, but never saw the result.

“My momentum carried me out of bounds, and I was blocked by the Boise State sideline,” Mangum said. “I couldn’t see the ball being caught, but I heard the crowd erupt. That’s when I knew Mitch had it.”

“To be on the receiving end of a play like that, I didn’t think I could top having a better memory after that first touchdown,” Juergens said.

Little did he know, something bigger and better was about three hours away.

The big finish

Trailing 24-21 in the fourth quarter, BYU drove to the Broncos 35-yard line and faced fourth down and 7 with 45 seconds remaining. Again, Anae called for “Ace-90,” only with an added twist called “Y-Choice,” which moved 6-foot-5 Terenn Hauk to the slot.

BYU receiver Mitchell Juergens celebrates his catch and score as BYU and Boise State play Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“The plan was to go to Terenn on a 10-yard out,” Juergens said. “But they (Boise State) jumped the route and double-teamed him. I had my man beat and just kept running.”

Mangum was chased out of the pocket and just before taking a helmet to the stomach, he spotted Juergens and fired another back-foot throw to the end zone.

“I saw we had a window. Some open grass. I just did my best to put the ball up toward that space he was running to,” Mangum said. “Again, I didn’t see the ball being caught, but I heard the crowd erupt. I sat up and saw everybody celebrating with Mitch.”

“I don’t remember being surrounded by players, but I was focusing on the football and didn’t want to lose my footing,” Juergens said. “When Tanner threw it to me, I thought, ‘This is my ball and I have to make a play.’”

With Boise State defenders Darian Thompson in front of him and Dylan Sumner-Gardner behind him, all Juergens could do was wait — and jump.

“These are things, as a shorter receiver, you don’t get many opportunities to do. You don’t see too many jump balls,” he said. “But I had always been a believer that I could win contested jump-ball catches. I gave it all I had.”

Juergens grabbed the ball with two hands before crashing onto his back in the end zone. He hopped up on his feet and raised both hands in the air — it was a big moment for the smallest guy on the field.

“For someone who is not the tallest guy out there but still be able to play tall, to have the ability to go up and get the ball. It was incredible,” Mangum said. “Mitch never played small.”

BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum sprints away from Boise State defensive lineman during game against Boise State on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

A week earlier, Juergens watched Mitch Mathews go into a crowd and pull down a 42-yard catch as time expired to stun the Cornhuskers. This was his chance to do something similar and he did it.

“I grew up a BYU fan. I always had dreams of making big plays at LES,” Juergens said. “I came to the sideline where my teammates celebrated with me and I’m thinking, ‘I can’t believe I just did that!’”

On Boise State’s next play from scrimmage, BYU’s Kai Nacua intercepted Broncos quarterback Ryan Finley and returned it 50 yards for the Cougars 14th point in 15 seconds to put the game away 35-24.

In the aftermath of back-to-back wild finishes, with improbable touchdown grabs for the ages by Juergens and Mathews, BYU jumped up to No. 19 in the AP Top 25 poll while the two receivers debated their place in history.

“He had the better catch in the bigger moment,” Juergens said. “He always had me on that. But I remember sharing those moments with Mitch saying, ‘Can you believe we just did that? Who is it going to be next week?’”  

“He and I were exhausted after those two weeks,” Mathews said. “The smack talk came after we stopped playing, but in the moment, we were both thinking ‘We can’t be winning games by Hail Mary’s. This luck will run out. We’ve got to find ways to get better.’”

Double walk-on

Juergens knows how easy it is to get overlooked when you are undersized. His productive high school career at Langham Creek in Houston ended without a single scholarship offer. He earned a roster spot as a walk-on at BYU in 2010 before his church mission to Mexico City and then walked on a second time with his twin brother Garrett when he returned.

“My spot wasn’t guaranteed when I came back, so I had to walk on again,” Juergens said. “I think from there, my mindset was, ‘I want to prove people wrong, prove my ability to go in and make plays.’” 

Juergens started 11 games as a sophomore in 2014 and caught his first touchdown pass from Hill against Virginia as part of BYU’s 4-0 start prior to Hill’s injury. The crafty slot-receiver finished the season with 28 catches for 424 yards and four touchdowns and solidified his place in the offense.

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“You absolutely need a guy like that. Those guys can get in and out of breaks better than us taller guys,” said Mathews, who at 6-feet-6, caught 24 touchdowns while at BYU. “Those guys are naturally gritty and hungry. They are guys that have been underdogs their whole lives by being undersized. Those guys always have a place. As a player, you want the grittiest, hungriest and most competitive guys on the field — that was Mitch.”

Juergens’ 2014 performance earned him more than just more playing time and prior to the 2015 season, head coach Bronco Mendenhall called the team together.

“Bronco stood up in front of the whole team and awarded a scholarship to Nate Carter who was entering his senior year,” Juergens said. “He made it sound like there was just one scholarship to give for the season and then he said, ‘No, wait. We have one more,’ He called my name, and everyone went crazy!”

Juergens finished his BYU career with 99 receptions for 1,228 yards and eight touchdowns. The two-time walk-on earned a degree in finance and won the respect of his teammates — especially the taller ones.

“As an undersized receiver, I had to be more polished on understanding game film and defensive schemes because I couldn’t rely on my height or speed as much. It was about what more could I do to put myself in a position to compete,” Juergens said. “If you believe in yourself, don’t let anybody tell you what you can’t do, especially if it’s about size or stature. But it doesn’t come easy. You must work your tail off to do it.”

Eye to eye with Epps

There is a similarity in size between the receivers Juergens played with at BYU and the group that will take the field this fall — including 6-feet-4 Keanu Hill, 6-feet-4 Chase Roberts, 6-feet-3 Darius Lassiter, and 6-feet-6 tight end Isaac Rex. Like Juergens, there is also an undersized X-factor in 5-feet-10 Kody Epps.

BYU receiver Kody Epps fights for yardage during a game against Utah State in Provo on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022.
BYU receiver Kody Epps runs after a catch against Utah State in Provo on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. Like Juergens, Epps is undersized, but that didn’t prevent him from playing big for the Cougars last season. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“He can have a tremendous impact on the receiving corps,” said Juergens, ahead of his sixth season as sideline reporter for BYU Radio. “We saw it last season. He has a lot of tools in his back pocket. A lot of it is shiftiness and explosiveness off the ball.”

Epps missed the last five games of 2022 and all of spring practice with a shoulder injury. He entered the transfer portal for a few days but decided to return to BYU. When healthy and on the field, he has proven to be a major headache for the defense.

“Kody is like Mitch in a lot of ways. He can get in the slot and run those short-to-intermediate routes,” Mangum said. “You need a guy like that when it’s third and 4 or fourth and 5. That’s what Mitch brought to our offense and that’s what Epps can do this year to give Kedon (Slovis) a reliable target that he can trust in the short area of the field with the ability to also push the field, get in the seams, and present a vertical threat as well.”

Epps caught the imagination of Cougars fans with his four receptions for 100 yards and two touchdowns against Notre Dame. The following week against Arkansas, the Los Angeles product caught nine passes for 125 yards and a touchdown.

“Kody is a natural leader and has the respect of his teammates,” Juergens said. “He is someone that, despite his size or what he’s up against, he’s gonna go and make plays and be a guy his teammates can rely on.”

Sounds familiar.

BYU receiver Mitchell Juergens is swarmed by teammates after catching the go-ahead touchdown as BYU and Boise State play Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.