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‘We had to be here’: Some BYU fans made 2,200-mile trip to see Coastal Carolina game, others came from down the street

As ESPN’s “College GameDay” broadcasted its show from Brooks Stadium, fans from BYU and Coastal Carolina alike reveled in the attention their undefeated teams are getting

BYU fans hold signs while standing outside Brooks Stadium, where ESPN’s “College GameDay” was broadcast prior to the Cougars’ matchup with Coastal Carolina, in Conway, South Carolina, on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020.
Jay Drew, Deseret News

CONWAY, South Carolina — When rumors started swirling last Wednesday that a BYU vs. Coastal Carolina showdown of undefeated college football teams might be in the works if Liberty couldn’t make the trip to the coast due to COVID-19 issues, Cougar fans Mike Nascimento and Justin Hicken jumped online.

The roommates booked refundable airline tickets to fly from Salt Lake City into Charleston, South Carolina, then prayed that the rumors would turn into reality.

They did.

So Nascimento and Hicken were there Saturday morning at the south end of Brooks Stadium, outside the gates with about 50 other BYU fans, decked out in BYU gear and waving their BYU flags while ESPN’s “College GameDay” crew broadcasted their weekly show from far across the field.

“We don’t even have tickets yet,” Nascimento said. “But we had to be here. It was worth the risk.”

Of course, Thursday morning the schools announced the game was on, and almost immediately ticket prices on second-market websites soared as Coastal officials announced only 5,000 spectators would be allowed in the 20,000-seat stadium 11 miles from the tourist town of Myrtle Beach and a 60-mile arc of beach land on the Atlantic Ocean known “Grand Strand.”

Nascimento said tickets were going for “at least $500 on StubHub” and he wasn’t able to secure any as of Saturday morning. If they couldn’t get in, the roommates said they would stand outside the gates on University Boulevard and watch the game televised nationally by ESPNU from there.

Even a couple University of Utah football fans, former SLC residents Kevin Stitt and Michelle Chidester, who now live in Myrtle Beach, showed up Saturday morning in their Utes gear, but said they were supporting the Cougars. Stitt had added the letter ‘B’ and ‘Y’ next to the ‘U’ on his cap; and sweatshirt.

“We’re happy that they’re having a great season,” Stitt said.

Another group of BYU fans — brothers Sam and Nathaniel Hancock and Nathaniel’s son, Paycen — said they were able to secure six tickets at $450 apiece, but in three different spots in the stadium in two-seat chunks.

“We had to get here (from Utah),” Sam Hancock said. “This is a special season. Zach Wilson is a special quarterback, and we need to take every opportunity we can to watch this team play, especially not having any (fans) at home games and the away games getting shifted. GameDay being here was a draw for us as well. We think that is pretty cool.”

The Hancocks couldn’t get inside the stadium for GameDay — only a couple hundred Coastal Carolina fans, its band and cheerleaders, were let in — but were able to chat with host Kirk Herbstreit before the show and thanked him for saying the CFP Selection Committee had the No. 13 Cougars ranked too low.

“So that was really cool,” Sam Hancock said.

He picked BYU to win 45-25, but Nathaniel was “a lot more nervous about this one.” He thought the Cougars would wear down the Sun Belt team and win by 14-20 points.

Across the way, BYU fans Riley Brown, Halston Robinson, Jordan Brown and James Robinson waited behind the set for a glimpse of the goings-on, also unable to get into the stadium during GameDay. All four are from Myrtle Beach, and grew up attending Coastal games when the school was in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). It moved to the FBS in 2017.

But they attended BYU, and were there to cheer on the Cougars, they said.

“Just total shock,” said Riley Brown of seeing a BYU-Coastal Carolina matchup. “The best way to describe it is the clash of two worlds for me. I grew up here. I have been to Coastal games my whole life, and I was always thought that if BYU were to come to town, it would be against the Gamecocks over in Columbia.

“When I heard it could happen, I said there was no way it could. But they pulled it out and it is surreal,” Brown said.

The Browns and Robinsons were among 20 or so BYU fans who greeted the Cougars when they arrived at the airport Friday afternoon.

“BYU fans truly are everywhere, just like they say,” Halston Robinson said.

Draper’s Zak Zarbock and his sons, Braxton and Dawson, also made the trip after securing tickets from a family friend with close ties to the program.

Why make the effort?

“Because it is BYU, and it is the only game we had a shot at (attending),” said Braxton Zarbock, a freshman at Corner Canyon High when Cougars QB Wilson was a senior there.

“We like to go to at least one away game a year, and this one was the only possibility,” Zak Zarbock said. “Also, just because the stakes are high and the season is riding on this. We want to get into a New Year’s Six bowl, and this is the only way we can get it.”

One of the great GameDay traditions is the presence of a Washington State Cougars’ flag, and sure enough, Wazzu got one there despite the last-minute arrangements. WSU alum Zac Gorley got the call that he was needed, and made the drive over from Charlotte, North Carolina, to ensure a flag was there — although it was his own personal flag.

It was the sixth time Gorley has appeared with the WSU flag at GameDay, after two at South Carolina, one at Clemson, one at the ACC championship game in Charlotte and one at the Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee.

“They called me yesterday and we made it happen,” Gorley said. “It’s a big deal for us.”

And for blue-clad Cougar fans as well.

As the show wrapped up, all four of ESPN’s analysts — Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, David Pollack and Lee Corso — picked BYU, an 11-point favorite, to win, and Corso donned BYU mascot Cosmo’s headgear. Guest picker Dustin Johnson, the PGA Tour golfer who recently won the Masters and was a Coastal Carolina golfer, chose Coastal Carolina “for sure, (because) it is my alma mater.”

But he thanked BYU for agreeing to the game and making the trip in the 11th hour, and with that sentiment everyone in attendance could agree.