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With All Eyes on Them, Coastal Carolina and BYU Deliver a Game to Remember

For once, the center of the college football world was two non-Power 5 programs. Boy, did they make the most of it.

Soon enough, the final stages of this strange college football season will belong to the usual suspects—the blueblood programs from the power conferences that always command all the attention. But Saturday, the sport belonged to two fresh, intrepid interlopers who dared risk undefeated seasons and wound up producing the best game of 2020.

Totally on the fly.

Give all the helmet stickers to Coastal Carolina and BYU for scheduling a game Wednesday and contesting it Saturday and leaving America riveted until the final play—a dramatic tackle at the 1-yard line by the Chanticleers to preserve a 22–17 triumph.

BYU WR Dax Milne gets taken down just shy of the end zone to end the game

This was a Tinder date of a game, two undefeated teams looking for a late hookup that would help validate their seasons to a skeptical nation. Coastal (9–0) was supposed to play one-loss Liberty in a doozy of a game with ESPN’s College GameDay show in town, but the Flames were knocked out by COVID-19 issues. That’s when BYU (9–0) stepped in and saved the day—agreeing to the game and sending its equipment truck hurrying 2,200 miles and 40 hours east, from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Coast.

This was a great sporting gesture by two programs unloved by the College Football Playoff selection committee—the Cougars were No. 13 and the Chanticleers were No. 18, both behind Power 5 conference teams with multiple losses. This was their last real chance to make an impact and a statement—but playing the game also meant that someone was going to lose an undefeated season.

In a sport infamous for scheduling that is both rigid and timid—games plotted out as much as 15 years ahead of time, with difficult matchups often avoided—here came the antidote. BYU, an independent that has had more scheduling tumult than anyone this season, lived up to its “Any team, any time, any place” mantra. And Sun Belt Conference member Coastal said, “Bring it on.”

“At least we got balls,” Coastal coach Jamey Chadwell said in the lead-up to the game. Indeed, the game turned into one long display of fortitude, machismo and bravado.

Local fans in Myrtle Beach wore T-shirts that said “Mormons vs. Mullets,” playing on the famous Catholics vs. Convicts shirts from the 1988 Notre Dame–Miami game. (BYU is the flagship university for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the Coastal team has taken to sporting flowing blonde mullets this season.) The game got supremely chippy on the final play of the first half, when a Hail Mary by BYU quarterback Zach Wilson was intercepted and returned from the Coastal goal line. On the return, Chanticleers Teddy Gallagher and Jeffrey Gunter gooned up on Wilson, hurling him to the ground twice and sparking a bench-clearing dustup.

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The second half was simply good football, with Coastal Carolina winning the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and frustrating the high-powered BYU offense. A Cougars fumble led to a go-ahead field goal for the Chants, and then Coastal mounted a punishing, 85-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter.

That’s where the game stood when BYU took possession at its own 18-yard line with 55 seconds left and no timeouts. This was a Mission Impossible situation for the Missionaries, but also a chance for Wilson to have a Heisman moment and erase what had been a difficult night.

Then BYU took a holding penalty and the odds got longer: 91 yards in 43 seconds.

Wilson threw a long one to Gunner Romney, who made a leaping catch for 33 yards—and knocked himself out when his head hit the turf. Minus his No. 2 receiver, Wilson looked elsewhere—12 yards to running back Tyson Allgeier, then 15 yards to Dax Milne to the Coastal 31 with seven seconds left.

With Coastal defending the end zone against a Hail Mary, Wilson threw short to Milne for 13 yards with three seconds left. On the final play, Wilson again looked at Milne and fired a strike to his right on a post pattern. Milne, who got an inside release on defensive back K.J. Johnson, reeled in the pass at the 3.

Milne took two steps toward the end zone and was contacted by freshman safety Mateo Sudipo. Then fellow safety Brayden Matts threw his body into the collision as well, stopping Milne’s momentum cold as Sudipo wrapped up and slung the BYU receiver to the turf.

Game over. Coastal Carolina wins at the 1.

The play was vaguely reminiscent of the one that decided Super Bowl XXXIV, with Titans receiver Kevin Dyson catching a slant and Rams linebacker Mike Jones tackling him on the 1 on the final play. While that play always will have greater historical importance, for the Cougars and Chanticleers, this was their Super Bowl.

Neither is going to the playoff. Neither is winning a national championship. But they had this moment—when the college football nation watched two teams from outside the Establishment get together on a whim and stage a classic.

In a troubled season, here was something all fans of the sport could appreciate and celebrate—a matchup that didn’t exist until this week, on a teal field, between two programs nobody was saying a word about when the year began. The two have little in common beyond ambition and balls, but in the end only a single yard separated them on a thrilling night in December.