Provo » Joining the likes of Jonny Harline, Austin Collie, Chris Yergensen and Ryan Kaneshiro, BYU tight end Andrew George added his name to rivalry game lore on Saturday, catching the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium as the Cougars edged the Utes in another last-play thriller.
The final: BYU 26, Utah 23
Then the quarterback who threw that pass, Max Hall, made sure the latest classic will be remembered for more than just the 25-yarder. His rant about hating Utah and the Utes being "classless" when asked if he felt redeemed after last year's five-interception performance is bound to go right up there with Collie's famous "magic happens" speech and Lenny Gomes' "pumping my gas" comments.
In front of a sellout crowd of 64,301 shivering fans, the Cougars improved to 10-2 with the win, the fourth straight season coach Bronco Mendenhall has guided his team to at least 10 wins. Utah dropped to 9-3, falling just short of springing a mild upset when George crossed the goal line after the Utes had struck first in OT with a 29-yard field goal by Joe Phillips, his fifth of the game.
The Cougars have now defeated Utah in three of the last four rivalry games, all three of which came down to the last play of the game.
"It was just a phenomenal football game," Mendenhall said. "It was two teams playing as hard as they could."
Hall went from being goat for the second-straight year to hero after connecting with George, who caught the squeezed-in pass that Stevenson Sylvester just missed knocking down. George then shed safety Joe Dale's tackle and was home free.
"I made the move, the guy wasn't able to stick with me, the safety came down trying to make a play on the ball, he missed, and then there was no one there," George said. "So I just hoped I wouldn't get caught from behind."
Hall was not intercepted -- BYU had no turnovers; Utah had one -- but completed just 12 of 32 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked four times, and often left the pocket early, refusing to take any chances downfield.
"I would say enough to win, and that probably says it all," said coach Bronco Mendenhall, when asked about the senior's performance after Hall won his 31st career game and improved to 2-1 against Utah.
That it would come down to overtime seemed implausible when the Cougars took a 20-6 lead into the fourth quarter.
But a Phillips' field goal trimmed the deficit to 20-9, and after a big punt return by Shaky Smithson, the Utes went 37 yards in eight plays to get within three. They scored on Eddie Wide's 1-yard run after the drive was kept alive by a strange play in which Aiona Key fumbled the ball away, but officials ruled he was down because his helmet came off.
The Utes held the Cougars to consecutive three-and-outs after pulling to within three, and drove to the BYU 22 before Phillips tied it 20-20 with a 40-yard field goal with 29 seconds remaining.
Freshman Jordan Wynn completed his first seven passes for the Utes, but cooled off considerably and finished 21-for-41 for 198 yards and no TDs.
"He wasn't bad. I thought he did a good job playing in his first rivalry game," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
Another huge call came in the third quarter, after Utah's Robert Johnson scooped up an apparent Harvey Unga (23 carries, 116 yards) fumble and returned it to the BYU 39. However, after a long review, officials overtuned the call and said Unga was down before the ball came out.
Three plays later, Hall threw a 1-yard TD pass to Manase Tonga to give BYU a 20-6 lead.
"Each time we come to this game, I think I've got a handle on the preparation, and I don't," Mendenhall said. "Things come up you don't expect."
A last-second finish, though, is not one of them.