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‘Legend of Drew Lisk’: Senior backup quarterback leads Utah to improbable comeback in storybook ending

Utah Utes quarterback Drew Lisk (12) makes a pass during an NCAA football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020.
Utah Utes quarterback Drew Lisk (12) makes a pass during an NCAA football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020.
Yukai Peng, Deseret News

Utah’s epic, come-from-behind 45-28 victory over Washington State in the season-finale Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium produced an unlikely hero.

It was the guy everyone forgot about — senior Drew Lisk, who has been in the program since 2016 and has played sparingly. With 1:21 remaining before halftime and the Utes trailing 28-7, he replaced Jake Bentley, who had just thrown an interception.

In serious trouble, coach Kyle Whittingham entrusted the keys of the offense to Lisk — the knowledgeable, reliable, unheralded senior.

Well, let’s just say patience paid off for Lisk.

The senior had waited five years for this moment. He embraced it and he wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity. The former walk-on and Jordan High product bailed out Utah’s listless offense in the second half, engineering four consecutive touchdown drives and helping the Utes score 38 consecutive points against the Cougars.

And it came in what is expected to be his final game in a Ute uniform. Talk about a storybook ending.

“You saw the legend of Drew Lisk was born in that second half,” Whittingham said. “He’ll be able to tell that story for years, how he came in and rallied the troops.”

Lisk, who nearly transferred out of the program in the past year, persevered and claimed his reward.

“Everything I’ve gone through these past four or five years, it’s all been worth it,” said Lisk, who completed 15 of 26 passes for 152 yards. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

This all happened the same week that Utah signed four-star quarterback Peter Costelli. Lisk had been relegated to afterthought status, at least outside Utah’s program.

“I’m so excited for him. He comes in every day, never complains, just puts his head down and goes to work,” Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd said of Lisk. “He just waited his turn. Most guys will leave when their number isn’t called. He stuck it out. He deserves everything that he got today.”

Lisk acknowledged that he contemplating leaving the program. Had he done that, he would have missed out on this improbable opportunity.

“I weighed my options. In the end, I wasn’t ready to give it up yet, so I came back and came to work,” Lisk said. “What happened today was a result of that. It’s been a long five years, but it felt good today. That was just a product of the culture here. The whole entire team, we show up every day … I think it paid off. A great comeback win today. It was a blast.”

When he entered the game under the abysmal circumstances, Lisk simply ran the offense he knows so well.

“I knew it was time to go. It’s what I worked all week in practice for and the offseason and the last four years,” he said. “These guys on this team, they trust me. I trust them. There was never a doubt in anyone’s mind. We just needed to go out and execute.”

The Utes executed as well as they had in their previous four games this season.

“Drew Lisk is one of my favorite players on this entire team. He’s completely unselfish, has a great attitude. He’s the epitome of a great teammate,” Whittingham said. “All he wants to do is help the program in any way he can. We’re very fortunate that he came back.

“I think this was his last game at Utah. Drew Lisk is a pleasure to have on your team. He’s a guy that helps everyone around him as much as he possibly can. He’s like a coach on the field.”

Meanwhile, Washington State backup quarterback Cammon Cooper, a native of Lehi, entered the game for a couple of series in the fourth quarter. He completed 8 of 13 passes for 77 yards.

But Saturday’s game belonged to Lisk, who went out a winner with an unlikely, legendary performance.