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Dick Harmon: BYU's Taysom Hill is still chasing The Phantom

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 11 2013 5:06 p.m. MDT

PROVO — As Texas unsuccessfully chased BYU quarterback Taysom Hill last Saturday, the sophomore unsuccessfully chased The Phantom.

Hill gained 259 yards against the Longhorns, the second most rushing yards by an FBS quarterback in the past decade. Only Vince Young of Texas gained more in a game during the past 10 years. Hill averaged 15.2 yards per carry against the Longhorns, catapulting him to No. 7 nationally for average yards per game.

After a two-hour storm delay last Saturday night, Hill’s effort was painted as a new BYU rushing record for a quarterback. The next day, many reports corrected that piece of the record book.

It was puzzling to the family of Eldon ”The Phantom” Fortie, who set BYU’s single-game rushing mark against George Washington in 1962 with 272 yards. His niece, Tami Fortie, asked for clarification. Did Hill break the single game rushing mark for a BYU quarterback? Or not?

“ESPN flashed on the screen Eldon’s rushing record as the quarterback against George Washington and we got the impression that a long-held record by our uncle had just fallen,” wrote Tami.

“What exactly is the case?” she asked.

No worries, Tami, your uncle's record is intact.

The confusion comes because of the designation of a "quarterback" during Fortie's era. Some assumed because Eldon Fortie, whose jersey has been retired, was a running back, that his record for rushing did not count as a quarterback like Hill.

According to Ray Beckham, who watched Fortie play in the early '60s, the BYU legend operated out of a single-wing back. He got his hands on the football almost all the time, sometimes with a direct snap. “Sometimes he would hand the ball off to a fullback, but most the time he handled the ball on almost all the plays,” said Beckham.

Fortie earned All-America honors and broke 21 school records during his days in Provo. He rushed for 1,149 yards, an average of 5.8 yards per play in 1962. He also passed for 814 yards.

Brett Pyne, the sports information director for BYU's football team, offers further clarification. And this is the official one:

“Eldon Fortie remains the BYU record-holder for rushing yards in a single game. He had 272 yards vs. George Washington in 1962. ESPN would have just been showing that Taysom Hill was approaching Eldon's record. The paper report saying that Taysom Hill came up short of Eldon's record is correct. Taysom Hill's 259 yards rushing against Texas is now the No. 2 single-game rushing performance in BYU history behind Eldon Fortie's 272 yards,” said Pyne.

“The question of what position Eldon really played has no bearing on the record. Eldon played as a "back" in the BYU offense of that time but he received the snap from center to start the attack, so he would be considered a quarterback even though the offensive attacks may be different in approach now compared to that time,” said Pyne.

“Since Eldon, and the team, ran so much back then that may be why some speculated if he was really a quarterback or was more of a halfback, etc. Because Fortie played what would be the quarterback position, he is not only the all-time record-holder but also the quarterback record-holder for rushing yards in a single game. Hill is now No. 2 in both categories.”

So, there we have it.

It is interesting that the University of Utah has a chance to face six of the nation’s current top 25 rushers this season, according to NCAA statistics posted earlier this week.

Those include BYU’s Jamaal Williams, who ranks No. 2 with 163 yards per game, and Hill, who is No. 7 with a 150.5 average. Tre Madden of USC is No. 16 with a 130-yard-per-game effort and Oregon’s De Anthony Thomas is 20th with 126 per game. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is 25th at 117 per outing.

If the Utes make it to the Pac-12 championship game and Washington is the opponent, Steve Sarkisian’s Huskies have the No. 3 rusher in the country in Bishop Sankey, who averages 161 yards so far this season.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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