Bronco made a bad call, bottom line.
No, I’m not referring to BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall’s decision to go for the two-point conversion Thursday in a 7-6 loss to Boise State. I’m referring to the one he made a few days earlier at the end of the Cougars’ 24-21 loss to Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Keep reading, BYU fans. I know you’re probably not interested in reliving either one of those losses, but I’ve got a theory I want to share and it involves both games.
First, let’s go back to the BYU-Utah rivalry game … and what a wild game it was.
In the fourth quarter of a game that didn’t even start until 8 p.m. locally, the ESPN-televised affair had its intensity ratcheted up a notch or two just before midnight. Although neither side dominated the game, the Utes built a lead and looked to be in control until the Cougars made a late charge in the final minutes.
By now even the most casual of sports fans — and let’s face it, even non-sports fans — know what happened next. BYU got within a field goal of sending the game into overtime but missed not one, but two field goal chances in the final second.
The first was blocked, but overzealous Utah fans — not to mention players and coaches on the sidelines — ran onto the field while the play was still alive. A 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was called, setting up one last field goal attempt, this one much closer to the target.
However, like Utah kicker Ryan Kaneshiro’s famed miss back in 1998, the ball doinked off the upright and died a painful death.
Game over: Utah fans scurry around the field like mice in a research lab jailbreak; BYU fans stew and some think, “Well, good thing it didn’t go to overtime, the game wouldn’t have ended until after midnight. At least now we can say we didn’t play on Sunday.”
Shoot, even Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, himself a former Cougar, cracked a joke about the possibility of BYU playing in the wee hours of a Sabbath morning. But it’s a weak response all the way around.
The game began on Saturday; if it had leaked a few minutes into Sunday, I think all would’ve been forgiven. Plus, anyone making a big deal about that is even nuttier than the folks charging the field while the game was still going on.
But here’s where my theory comes in: If ever there was a perfect time for a fake field goal, it was at that moment, at 11:50-something p.m., Saturday night.
There was no time on the clock and no way the Utes would have been expecting trickery. Honestly? I think the play would’ve worked and given the Cougars the win, well before the midnight hour.
In a feud filled with folklore and fantastic finishes, that surely would have been the freakiest.
And if it hadn’t worked? Well, ol’ Bronco had a built-in excuse, didn’t he? Some among the faithful may questioned his decision-making, but nobody’s going to question his convictions. He easily could have looked reporters in the eyes and said, “Yeah, maybe it was just a technicality, but I didn’t feel good about playing on Sunday, so I called for the fake. I’d rather lose in regulation on Saturday than win in overtime on the Sabbath. I figured I’d roll the dice, if you’ll pardon the expression.”
And speaking of rolling the dice, let’s examine Bronco’s call last Thursday.
He’s getting beat up in the media and all over the Internet, but I’m not quite ready to add my voice to those others.
In retrospect, of course it was a bad call. Kick the point after, tie the game at 7-all and take your chances in overtime. BYU’s defense was tremendous and there’s little doubt it could have held Boise State’s offense over the final three-plus minutes.
Actually, it felt like a bad call at the time, too. But still, I give the guy a good grade for gutsiness.
Coming off that heartbreaking loss to Utah — and knowing full well the independent Cougars don’t have anything like a conference title to play for — I liked his brashness.
I liked his willingness to put all his cards on the table … if you’ll pardon the expression.
Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner’s sports columnist. He also covers the Utah Jazz and the NBA. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at email@example.com. He tweets at http://twitter.com/jmb247.