Quarterback Riley Nelson came off the bench to guide the Brigham Young Cougars to a memorable comeback win over Utah State in 2011. For over 30 years, part of the identity of BYU football has been to come back from large deficits. It was 10 years ago that BYU recorded its largest comeback win in school history.
In 2002, BYU went to Logan, Utah to take on the Utah State Aggies. As the game started, it didn’t appear an historic comeback would be necessary. Paul Walkenhorst and Levi Madarieta intercepted Utah State pass attempts to stop the Aggies’ first two drives. When the first quarter ended, Utah State held a slim 3-0 lead.
That all changed in the second quarter. Utah State scored 31 points. The final points came on a very improbable 75-yard interception return for a touchdown as time expired. The score was 34-7.
BYU had overcome second-half deficits of 20, 19, and 22 points in the past, but never had BYU overcome a 27-point deficit and won. (BYU came back from a 28-point deficit to tie San Diego State in 1991.)
Fortunately, the law of averages started to favor BYU in the second half. In addition to the unlikely interception return, Utah State needed three very big offensive plays to score its first 17 points of the game. The BYU offense had been productive in the first half. Running back Curtis Brown had already reached 100 yards rushing. The problem was the Cougars couldn’t finish drives.
Starting at their own 30-yard line following the second half kickoff, BYU drove 70 yards in 11 plays. The drive ended with Brown scoring his second touchdown of the night. After the Cougar D stopped the Aggies, Brown got the hat trick when he raced 33-yards to complete a 7-play, 53 yard drive.
With 21 minutes left in the game, BYU had closed the gap to 34-21.
The BYU defense again got the ball back without allowing any points. As the third quarter closed, BYU was on the move again.
Head coach Gary Crowton didn’t allow a failed fake field goal in the first half to discourage him from reaching in to his bag of tricks again. With the ball 17-yards away from the goal line, Crowton pulled out a double reverse pass. This time it worked. Wide receiver Toby Christensen found Jason Kukahiko in the end zone to make it a 6-point game with just under 10 minutes to play.
Less than a minute later, BYU had the ball back. Bret Engemann led the offense on its longest and most efficient drive of the night. It took only seven plays and 2:21 for BYU to march 82 yards for the game winning touchdown—an 18-yard strike to tight end Gabriel Reid.
BYU had scored touchdowns on its first four drives of the second half to take a 35-34 lead with 6:46 to play. Now, it was up to the defense to finish a second-half shutout. A Brandon Heaney interception with 26 seconds to play sealed the shutout and preserved the win.
Curtis Brown was the hero on the night with 217 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 33 carries. Reno Mahe led all receivers with 102 yards on five receptions.
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