BYU football: Y. survived a couple of close calls

Haysbert, Morrell plays key in '84

Published: Monday, July 13 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Editor's note: This is the second in an eight-part series celebrating the 25th anniversary of BYU's 1984 national championship.

PROVO — The single greatest defensive play in BYU football history lives on, 25 years later.

On Sept. 22, 1984, in Honolulu, Hawaii, Cougar safety Kyle Morrell's timed leap over the line of scrimmage and subsequent tackle of Hawaii quarterback Rafael Cherry just short of the goal line helped preserve a hard-fought 18-13 win and, as it turned out, helped lead to BYU's national championship.

"Whenever I go anywhere, like the golf course or a movie, there's always somebody who introduces me as that guy who jumped over the line at Hawaii," Morrell says. "They don't remember my name. They just remember that play. It's kind of funny. I've gotten a lot of recognition for it, which is nice. But I'm just an average guy who was put in position to make a play and fortunately, it worked out."

As great as that play was, is it frustrating to be remembered for only one?

"That's the thing. I remember a lot of other plays I made," says Morrell, who ended up playing three seasons in the NFL. "The coaches have told me, 'That play won the national championship, but you made so many other great plays.' A lot of the coaches remember me as a kid who was willing to fly around on the football field and sacrifice his body."

Vai Sikahema, who starred on that '84 team, says this about Morrell's play: "I have said this at numerous events at BYU. Sometimes it's met with raised eyebrows. It's arguable, but the greatest single play in BYU sports was Kyle Morrell's leap over the line at Hawaii. Our offense wasn't playing very well that night. That play, to me, kept us on course that season. That one play, to me, epitomized an entire season. It was a microcosm of the entire season. Guys on our team did that — left their assignments for the greater good of the team, to make a play."

Weeks before Morrell's heroics, another amazing play occurred thousands of miles and several time zones away — in Pittsburgh. Unheralded wide receiver Adam Haysbert caught a 50-yard pass with 1:40 remaining in a 20-14 upset of then-No. 3 Pitt in the 1984 season-opener to kick-start what ended up being an undefeated season. It turned out to be one of the biggest touchdowns in BYU history.

"I remember that pass at the end of that game and Haysbert running through the end zone with his arms outstretched," remembers offensive lineman Trevor Matich. "That set off the season. From there, we didn't really talk about going undefeated, but there was an undercurrent that if we took care of business, at the end of the season, we could find ourselves at 13-0."

That game was historic because it was the first live college football game televised by ESPN.

The Panthers were No. 3 in the preseason rankings and boasted All-Americans and future NFL mainstays Bill Fralic and Chris Doleman. The unranked Cougars, meanwhile, had lost stars like Steve Young and Gordon Hudson from the previous season.

"Once we got there (to Pitt) we knew the game wasn't going to be a pushover," Haysbert said later. "We were confident we could win, but we knew we had to play our best game. When we got into town I remember that the media were comparing us to a high school team. And before the game Pitt was taunting us and trying to intimidate us."

The game was a defensive struggle. It wasn't pretty offensively. It took junior quarterback Robbie Bosco, feeling the pressure of replacing Young, a while to feel comfortable in his first career start.

"That first game, we were very raw. I was lacking confidence," Bosco says. "I didn't have any confidence. I always felt good in practice, but game-time was a whole different thing. The way we won it and the way the defense stepped up, that brings back a lot of great memories. That was one of the great games."

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