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Lincoln, Neb. • Mitch Mathews was at the bottom of a huge pile, feeling the weight of about 10 teammates and screaming in the ear of fellow receiver Nick Kurtz. Defensive end Bronson Kaufusi was on the sidelines "praying with all my heart," and slot receiver Terenn Houk was hugging a side judge, whose arms stretched to the sky to signal touchdown as the majority of the 89,959 red-clad, fans at Memorial Stadium fell eerily quiet.
Meanwhile, senior Taysom Hill was on the sidelines, his foot in a boot after suffering a Lisfranc fracture that coach Bronco Mendenhall said has ended a promising season for the quarterback for the third time in four years.
There has probably never been a more bittersweet moment in the history of BYU football than a little after the 5 o'clock hour in the Mountain Time Zone on Sept. 5, 2015. One minute, Mendenhall was calling it "one of the greatest celebrations I have ever been involved in." The next minute, he was wiping away a tear when asked to describe Hill's mental state.
After a lengthy pause for a review that felt like an eternity to the Cougars and a smattering of about 3,000 of their fans, officials confirmed the touchdown and pure elation reigned in the southwest corner of the historic venue as the scoreboard flipped over to read BYU 33, Nebraska 28.
And thus ended one of the craziest season openers ever.
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The 42-yard Hail Mary to Mathews with no time left on the clock came from the arm of a freshman backup, Tanner Mangum, who returned home from his LDS Church mission to Chile in June and hadn't played in a real football game since a high school football all-star game on Jan. 1, 2012.
"The catch," said a teary-eyed Mathews, "becomes secondary to a lot of love for my best friend."
But it was worth 6 points, and concluded a drive that began on BYU's 24-yard-line and the Cougars (1-0) out of timeouts with 48 seconds left. An incomplete pass to Kurtz, an 11-yard scamper from Mangum and then a play call that caught the Huskers by surprise and turned into a 16-yard run by Adam Hine run got the Cougars to midfield.
If Hine is stopped short of a first down, the game is probably over.
"That was a gamble," Mendenhall acknowledged.
It came down to 4th-and-4 from the Nebraska 42 after a sideline throw to Mathews was caught out of bounds. One tick remained on the clock.
"Wasn't my best ball," said Mangum, after noting that the setting was a long way from Tocopilla, Chile, the hamlet he last worked in during his two years away from football. "It came out a little wobbly."
Mathews snatched it at about the 1, then powered into the end zone. The play was so new it didn't even have a name.
It does now.
"Practiced it one time, but never with Tanner," Mathews said. "I had to come down with it for my guys."
Had it not counted, the Cougars would have lamented the one that got away. They dominated the second quarter and took a 24-14 halftime lead that would have been more if Algie Brown had caught a wide-open swing pass on 4th down deep in Huskers' territory.
Hill injured his foot on a 21-yard touchdown run, untouched, with 13:13 remaining in the second quarter that tied the score at 14.
After forcing a Nebraska punt on its first series of the second half, the Cougars were marching again when safety Nate Gerry stepped in front of a Hill pass and returned the pick to the BYU 20. Minutes later, Terrell Newby's 10-yard run up the middle pulled Nebraska to within a field goal.
BYU drove again, thanks to a 35-yard run by Hill a run that turned out to be on a fractured foot but on 4th-and-4 from the Nebraska 37, Hill was stopped short and Big Mo was on Big Red's side.
Tommy Armstrong then led the home team 62 yards on eight plays for the go-ahead TD, a 9-yard pass to Trey Foster.
With Magnum having replaced Hill with 12:12 left in the fourth, the freshman who turned 22 on Thursday directed a 71-yard drive that set up Trevor Samson's clutch 35-yard field goal into a stiff prairie wind from the south.
Nebraska kicker Drew Brown missed a 41-yard field goal attempt after the Cougars came up with a huge stop on 3rd-and-3 from their own 22, and BYU took over with 48 seconds left, facing the wind, and a freshman at the helm.
"Just proud of the resiliency of our team, in an opening game, on a big stage, in a historic stadium, and just finding a way to pull it out," Mendenhall said.
R Freshman quarterback Tanner Mangum completes a Hail Mary to senior Mitch Mathews as BYU wins at Nebraska.
• BYU quarterback Taysom Hill suffers a Lisfranc fracture in his foot, his third season-ending injury in four years.