ARLINGTON, Texas — Almost 25 years ago to the day after BYU upset No. 3 Pittsburgh on the road in its season-opener, the No. 20 Cougars pulled the feat again, shocking No. 3 Oklahoma, 14-13, Saturday night before a crowd of 75,437 at Cowboys Stadium and a national television audience.
Of course, the '84 BYU team went on to post an undefeated season and win the national championship. It's way too early to know how the 2009 campaign will play out, but right now all the Cougars know is, it's one of their greatest victories ever.
It marked BYU's first triumph over a non-conference team ranked in the top 10 since a 28-21 win over Miami in 1990 in Provo.
"This is going to go be like the year we beat Miami," said quarterback Max Hall, who threw a game-winning, seven-yard touchdown pass to McKay Jacobson with 3:03 remaining. "It's one of the greatest wins in BYU history."
"BYU fans will look back on it forever," said defensive lineman Brett Denney. "A lot of people thought it was impossible for us to win this game. But our coaches helped us realize that it wasn't impossible."
Meanwhile, BYU's stunning victory put a serious crimp in Oklahoma's plans for an eighth national championship. The Cougars, who were three-touchdown underdogs, outplayed the heralded Sooners, outgaining them 357 yards to 265. BYU also limited OU to 2-for-11 on third-down conversions and held a team that averaged more than 50 points a game a year ago to a mere 13.
With injuries to star offensive players for both teams, the game became a surprising defensive struggle. Ultimately, BYU was more effective in overcoming adversity and early-season mistakes.
"I'm very excited about the win for our program and the work ethic our young men showed and the determination to play and battle through," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "It was an amazing situation in terms of the opportunity to play Oklahoma in this setting. Our intent was to play worthy of the opportunity and I believe that they did that and I'm proud of them for that."
"BYU just made plays when they needed to and I give them all respect," said Sooner defensive lineman Gerald McCoy. "Of course it hurts. Who likes to lose?"
The complexion of the game shifted when, just before the end of the half, OU quarterback Sam Bradford, the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner, suffered an AC joint sprain in his shoulder and sat out the rest of the game. Bradford gave way to redshirt freshman Landry Jones.
"It definitely changed things a little bit," Denney said. "But even before Bradford got hurt, we were having success."
Mendenhall called BYU's defense, which was much-maligned last season, "outstanding." It came up big time and again against Oklahoma, particularly in the fourth quarter. Early in the period, after a Hall interception, the Sooners at one point had first-and-goal at the Cougar 2-yard line.
On three straight plays, the BYU 'D' turned the Sooners away, and, after a delay of game penalty, OU had to settle for a 22-yard field goal that gave it a 10-7 advantage.
"Goal line stands are rare and difficult," Mendenhall said. "It really is about one player beating one player. Collectively, whoever has the most players trying the hardest wins, because there isn't much territory to cover. If I were to use words to describe the game, it would be grit and determination, and that comes down to that goal line stand."
After Jacobson's touchdown catch, which gave BYU its first lead of the game at 14-13, OU marched into BYU territory for the potential game-winning field goal. The Cougars forced the Sooners to attempt a 54-yarder with 1:23 left, but it fell short.
"They played an excellent football game and really made the plays there at the end when they had to have them to win," OU coach Bob Stoops said about BYU. "I thought our guys played hard, but I didn't think we played very smart. The penalties continuously took us out of drives."
In the first half, both teams looked like they were playing in their first game of the season. BYU had three turnovers and OU coughed up the ball twice. The Cougars and Sooners combined for 15 penalties.
Overall, though, BYU outplayed the No. 3 team in the country through the first 30 minutes. For the Cougars, there was an agonizing series of mistakes that prevented them from having the lead.
First, there was a delay of game penalty that wiped out a 41-yard field goal by Mitch Payne on BYU's first possession. Then there was a fumble by Jacobson on a punt that was recovered by Oklahoma at the Cougar 35 — which the Sooners turned into their first score of the game on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Bradford to Ryan Broyles.
In the second quarter, wide receiver O'Neill Chambers caught a screen pass and found a hole but fumbled into the end zone. The ball was recovered by OU's Quentin Carter.
The Cougars finally scored with 1:25 remaining in the first half on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Hall to Andrew George to tie the game at 7-7. That TD was set up by a 49-yard catch-and-run by Bryan Kariya.
At that point, it appeared the game would be deadlocked at halftime. But in the final minute, Bradford injured his shoulder when BYU linebacker Coleby Clawson drilled him and drove his shoulder into the turf. Bradford remained on the turf for several minutes as trainer attended to him. OU's Jimmy Stevens nailed a 35-yard field goal with two seconds remaining to lift the Sooners to a 10-7 edge.
When the Sooner offense returned in the second half, redshirt freshman Landry Jones was taking snaps in place of the ailing Bradford.
In the second half, the Cougars gained momentum and confidence.
"We know we have a good football team," said tight end Dennis Pitta. "We're confident in the things we could do. That was a very good football team we played. We made a lot of mistakes but fortunately the defense kept us in it and we were able to put it down there at the end of the game and get a score. It was a great win for us but it's a long season. We've got a lot more games to go and this is just the first. We have to refocus and prepare ourselves Monday for Tulane."