Ravell Call, Deseret News
Editor's note: This is the fifth in an eight-part series celebrating the 25th anniversary of BYU's 1984 national college football championship.
PROVO — There are certainly more memorable touchdowns in BYU football history than the one Kelly Smith scored late in the 1984 Holiday Bowl.
But he can lay claim to the one that ultimately lifted the Cougars to the national championship.
His 13-yard TD catch from Robbie Bosco with 1:23 remaining beat Michigan and completed BYU's perfect 13-0 season.
Prior to that game-winning touchdown, the top-ranked Cougars and unranked Wolverines were tied, 17-17. After suffering through a game that saw the Cougars turn the ball over six times and have a field-goal attempt blocked, BYU had one last chance to redeem itself.
On third down, with the ball at the Michigan 13, the play call came into the huddle — "69 halfback option." The primary receiver was Smith, a running back from Beaver, who had caught nine passes already that night.
But on that play, Smith was double-teamed, and tight end David Mills, the second option, "got tackled," according to Smith.
"Robbie scrambled and we all went to different places. It was actually a broken play," says Smith, who teaches physical education at Dixie State College. "I went down the sidelines, and Bosco found me in the back of the end zone. I wasn't supposed to be there."
Bosco's pass to Smith staked the Cougars to a 24-17 lead, which ended up being the final score.
"I didn't really think much more about (the touchdown) until after it was over," Smith says. "Everybody was piling on me, fans were running out of the stands. There wasn't that much time left in the game, but it seemed like a normal catch in the game. It meant more after it was over."
Two weeks later, on Jan. 3, 1985, after the New Year's Day bowl games were completed, BYU was officially crowned national champions in the Associated Press and United Press International polls.
Four years B.C. (before championship), the Cougars earned their first bowl victory ever in the "Miracle Bowl" on Jim McMahon's famous, last-second touchdown pass to Clay Brown. Six years A.C. (after championship), the Cougars knocked off No. 1-ranked, defending national champion Miami in Provo.
But BYU has never had more at stake in a game than it did on Dec. 21, 1984, against Michigan.
The Holiday Bowl pitted the No. 1, 12-0 Cougars against a 6-5 Wolverine team. The Cougars' dream of winning a national championship hinged, in large part, on beating Michigan.
While all the pressure was on BYU, the Cougar players and coaches were focused.
"The team goal was to go undefeated. By doing that, we would give ourselves a chance to win the national championship," says wide receiver Glen Kozlowski. "We just wanted to win every game. That's all we did. We talked about a national championship. But it wasn't that we would win it, but that we would give ourselves a chance to win it if we went undefeated."
BYU wanted to play No. 2 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, but they were contractually obligated to play in the Holiday Bowl as the Western Athletic Conference champions.
A loss to Michigan would have not only ruined any shot at a national championship, but it would have justified the criticisms that the Cougars had absorbed from detractors around the country.
The Wolverines did everything they could to smash BYU's hopes of a national title.
In the first quarter, Bosco dropped back and completed a pass to Kozlowski. At the end of the play, Michigan's Mike Hammerstein unloaded on Bosco, injuring his left leg. An official whistled Hammerstein for a late-hit penalty and Bosco was removed from the game as trainers and doctors attended to his left knee and left ankle.
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