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Whittingham Recalls Miracle Comeback In BYU’s 1980 Holiday Bowl Win

Jan 13, 2020, 1:50 PM | Updated: Jan 14, 2020, 12:20 pm
Head coach Kyle Whittingham of the Utah Utes looks on from the sidelines during their game against ...
Head coach Kyle Whittingham of the Utah Utes looks on from the sidelines during their game against the Southern Utah Thunderbirds at Rice-Eccles Stadium on September 1, 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Former BYU linebacker and current Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham recalled some of his memories of BYU’s historic comeback win over SMU in the 1980 Holiday Bowl.

Whittingham strolled down memory lane as a part of College Football’s celebration of 150 years of the sport in the “CFB150 My Story.”

He played for the Cougars from 1978-81, which included being named WAC Defensive Player of the Year in 1981.

Entering the Holiday Bowl, SMU was ranked No. 19 in the country, while BYU was No. 14. The Mustangs jumped out to a 19-0 lead in the first quarter before the Cougars scored their first touchdown. By halftime, SMU had a 29-13 lead, but BYU cut the lead before the break on an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown.

“They had Eric Dickerson and Craig James and all of these future NFL players on the team,” Whittingham said about SMU. “I don’t think many gave us a chance in that game. At halftime, the game was out of hand. We kept fighting. We had quarterback Jim McMahon, who was a tremendously talented quarterback. We were down like 20 points. We blocked a punt and recovered an onside kick, the sequence of events was incredible of things that had to happen and did happen in order for us to win the game.”

In the third quarter, SMU scored 9 points and BYU found the end zone once to trail 38-19 heading into the final period. The Cougars trimmed the deficit to 13 to start the fourth quarter before the Mustangs scored their final touchdown of the night. Matt Braga caught a 15-yard touchdown from McMahon, followed by a one-yard TD run by Scott Phillips to put BYU within six points, 45-39.

BYU had the ball with three seconds on the clock when McMahon threw a Hail Mary into the end zone that was caught by Clay Brown to give the Cougars the shocking victory.

“We were able to miraculously rally and comeback and win the game and that would have been for certain the highlight of my playing career,” Whittingham stated.

Dickerson and James combined for 335 of their 393 rushing yards and four touchdowns. McMahon recorded 446 passing yards and 4 touchdowns.

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