OK, Max Hall just might be ready to go lockstep with the rest of BYU's quarterbacks.
Hall has nine lives. He's a cat on a freeway. A mouse running away from the trap with cheese in his mouth. On Saturday, somehow, some way, Hall with a broken wing found a way to deliver the big plays in a title game for the Cougars.
There are plenty of figures to be credited on both sides of BYU's 17-10 win over Utah on Saturday. Both defenses were outstanding. Cougar freshman Harvey Unga was money.
But facing fourth-and-18 at his own 12 with 1:13 on the game clock and trailing 10-9, Hall, a rookie to all this blue-and-white business of passion and emotion, found his way into the storied lore of BYU vs. Utah, the 88th version.
"Max Hall was unbelievable," said his coach, Bronco Mendenhall.
On a day when Hall should have sat out after suffering what Mendenhall revealed was a serious shoulder injury at Wyoming, Hall found his one play a big play. He acted out a big part in the Cougars' version of "Day of the Living Dead Part II."
Hall helped lift BYU from a loss in a game the Cougars had dominated statistically from start to finish and should have tucked safely away on a fingertip drop by Unga eight minutes earlier.
Of course, like John Beck a year ago in Rice-Eccles Stadium, Hall needed help from the Utes. And they were gracious to oblige.
Just like Beck needed a miracle a year ago, getting half of Utah's defense to forget Jonny Harline and run to one side of the field with no time left, Hall somehow found that Utah abandoned his sidekick, Austin Collie, and the sophomore delivered a monster 49-yard bomb with 73 seconds to play to set up BYU's winning score.
"It wasn't the game-winner like John had, and it didn't overshadow the win, but I'll take it," Hall said. "You work hard every day, try to do things right, and it is supposed to pay off. We call it magic when magic happens."
Harline's still open? Sorry Ute faithful, it's now going to be "Collie's still open" until these two spar again. It was scarily similar to Brandon Doman's throws to Jonathan Pittman seven years ago against Utah.
"To be honest with you, I was surprised I was left alone," Collie said. "I thought they'd be in a big top and prevent package, so when I came out of that double move, I was surprised that he bit on it. But he was either threatened by Max on the route or by the stop route. I was amazed they didn't play deeper."
His thoughts with the ball in the air?
"I gotta catch it."
In coming months, rivalologists on both sides will break down the hows and whys. Ute cornerback Brice McCain broke off his reputed lock-down man coverage of BYU's most talented deep-threat weapon in Collie.
Going into the game, a great deal of analysis went into the matchup of Utah's man-cover corners shutting down BYU's wide receivers. Collie had five catches for 126 yards that could have been 193 and a TD if not for getting once penalized for pass interference.
"I felt we could throw to the outside all day, especially the fade route," said Collie, who was frustrated he had his 67-yard touchdown called back for a push-off on McCain.
But on this stunning Ute coverage breakdown, for the second straight year, it was Hall who fired off a fly ball to Collie after his dig-and-go allowed Collie to get as open as Harline a year ago. It was the biggest play of the game for both sides.
On the day, Hall's numbers were ordinary. He missed seven passes in a row in the first half, and at one point, he was 2-for-9. But as the game wore on and the energy of the rivalry injected adrenaline throughout Hall's sore right shoulder, bound and taped by trainer Kevin Curtis, his confidence grew.
"What Max proved is he's one of the best quarterbacks in the conference and in the nation," Collie said. "Even with an injury, he came out and played like he did."
Of course, there was the 67-yard TD called back.
Hall was inches short of tossing what could have been the game-winning touchdown to Unga twice. And if he'd waited and used the time he certainly had at his disposal, to allow Matt Allen time to clear earlier, he'd have had another fourth-quarter touchdown.
Hall finished the game 17-of-40 for 269 yards with one interception, a notch below his standards for the season.
"Without revealing the exact extent of his injury, it was substantial," Mendenhall said. "He wore out the training room this week, working pretty much around the clock. To see him throw on Tuesday was pretty remarkable. That means to throw a pass, period. To see him go out and play like he did today was pretty remarkable considering the severity of the injury, which I didn't make out publicly."
What will be remembered, Mendenhall said, is the throw on fourth down and 18.
"To make a big play in a big game to win a championship is a mark of a great quarterback. Statistics other than that might be interesting or relevant to talk about, but to me the major thing is winning the championship and making a critical play to help our team win, and that's what the great quarterbacks do."
Ask John Beck, his BYU career defined by a single throw a year ago in this crazy game.Now, Hall walks The Hall.
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