PROVO — For the past three years, BYU tight end Andrew George has played in the large shadow cast by his teammate, Dennis Pitta, who happens to play the same position.
But after Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium, George is no longer anonymous.
The senior from Englewood, Colo., etched his name in rivalry lore by scoring the game-winning touchdown on a 25-yard pass from quarterback Max Hall in overtime — the last play of the contest — to defeat Utah, 26-23.
Taking his place alongside Jonny Harline and Austin Collie before him, George is the latest BYU hero to help lift the Cougars to victory over their archrivals in dramatic fashion. For George and the rest of the seniors on the Cougar roster, it was a fitting conclusion to their final home game at BYU.
"It's an honor to be a part of that. I've worked so hard in my career at BYU," George said. "To have a play like that to end my career, especially at home and against Utah, it's unreal and something I'll never forget."
While it was a classic ending, the game itself was far from a classic. For much of the contest, it didn't look like a matchup between a pair of 9-2 teams. On a day filled with miscues and penalties, BYU — clad in throwback royal blue jerseys to honor the 1984 national championship team — watched Utah rally from a two-touchdown, fourth-quarter deficit in the fourth to tie the score in the final minute of regulation.
But in the end, the No. 18 Cougars (10-2, 7-1) won for the third time in the last four meetings against the No. 22 Utes (9-3, 6-2).
"Both programs really care about this rivalry. The fans certainly do," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. "For it to come down to overtime, it was the perfect scenario, I think, for a great college rivalry."
And for BYU, it was the perfect ending.
After Utah kicker Joe Phillips connected on a 29-yard field goal on its first possession in overtime, the Cougars faced second-and-10 from the 25. Hall dropped back and threaded a pass in between two Ute defenders — linebacker Stevenson Sylvester and safety Joe Dale — to George, who cradled the ball and raced untouched into the end zone for the score.
That game-winner capped yet another dramatic contest in this series and fans stormed the field, partying like it was 1984.
George was mobbed by jubilant fans and teammates before he knew it, he was stuck in the bottom of a pile.
"It was painful. I couldn't breathe. My shoulder was up by my head. But it's awesome," George said. "If that's what happens when you catch a game-winning touchdown, that's fine with me."
Pitta enjoyed watching his good friend receive some glory. "He gets overlooked a lot," he said. "He doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves. I'm happy for him."
BYU took a 20-6 lead early in the third quarter on a one-yard touchdown catch by Manase Tonga. From there, however, BYU's offense sputtered, gaining only one first down the rest of the game.
Heading into overtime, it looked like the Cougars wouldn't be able to get into the end zone against a stifling Utah defense.
For the contest, BYU gained only 265 yards of total offense and Hall had a career-low 12 completions on 32 attempts for only 134 yards. But he did throw two touchdowns and didn't have any interceptions.
"I give Utah a lot of credit. I was very impressed with the way their defense played. I think it was the best defense that's been played against us the entire year," Mendenhall said. "I also give our team credit for the perseverance, the grit and determination and execution at critical times to win the game."
When BYU got the ball, down 23-20 in overtime, Hall ran for five yards on first down. Then he completed a pass to McKay Jacobson, which was nullified by an illegal motion penalty.
That set up the second-and-10 play to George.
"We call it 'stick.' It was a route for the tight end — it's a double-move," George explained. "(The Utes) were playing press-man They played a lot of press-man on us all day. We hadn't practiced against press-man, but I did what I could to get open. Max stuck with it, he hit me even though it was a little hairy at first. But he stuck with me. I think the safety came up and tried to make a play on it. Once he was gone, it was clear skies to the end zone.
"There was no one there. No one there. It was incredible. Nothing like it."
It was a play the Cougars had tried earlier in the game without success.
"Andrew was one-on-one with (Sylvester). That's a mismatch Andrew will win on that every time," Hall said. "Andrew made a great move on the guy. The safety came down and (George) made him miss. It's something we've practiced a whole bunch. When you have tight ends who you've been with your whole career and you're on the same page, it shows."
While Hall and the offense were anemic for much of the game, the outcome was all that mattered to him.483 comments on this story
"It was a battle — a flat-out battle," he said. "We struggled in the second half to get stuff going on, but, bottom line, we made the play that we needed to win the game. What better guy to make to make it — a senior, a guy who has played a little bit in the shadow of Dennis, but, in my opinion, would be a star tight end at any other school in this conference. I'm proud of Andrew and the play he made."
For Hall, there was a measure of personal redemption after throwing five interceptions and coughing up a fumble in last year's 48-24 defeat to Utah.
"A little bit (of redemption), yeah. I don't like Utah," Hall said. "In fact, I hate them. I hate everything about them. I hate their program, I hate their fans. It felt really good to send those guys home. It was our time. We deserved it.... They deserved to lose.... It's a game I'll always remember."