PROVO, Utah — Jake Heaps couldn’t do it. Neither could Riley Nelson. Taysom Hill and Tanner Mangum each had multiple chances, while a future No. 2 overall NFL Draft pick in Zach Wilson even came up short against Kyle Whittingham’s machine to the north.
But Jaren Hall managed to pull it off. Leading the Cougars to a 26-17 win over Utah in front of a blue sea of fans at Lavell Edwards Stadium last weekend.
Perhaps Hall came along at the right time, with outside circumstances contributing to the end of a streak — one dating back a dozen years; but even then, the young quarterback needed to do enough to spearhead the effort.
It all makes for a good ol’ Happy Valley fairytale — considering that in 2020, the only action Hall ever saw was on the baseball field. Due to a lower body injury and Wilson’s career-defining season last fall, there was no reason to play the Spanish Fork native; but with Zach’s early departure for NFL pastures, Hall suddenly saw his moment staring him in the mirror.
Of course, nothing was ever gift wrapped. He went through a rigorous, off-season battle with Baylor Romney and Jacob Conover to prove to the BYU coaching staff what he, himself, already knew.
But Hall’s skill set — one equipped with explosive speed and the Taysom-like ability to move the chains with his feet — still had to be showcased on a marquee stage. Enter Saturday night, in front of a hungry, shoulder-to-shoulder Lavell Edward’s Stadium crowd.
Technically, Jaren was no rookie. Back in 2019, he even started a couple games during a season when injuries seemed to sweep through the entire BYU quarterback room. But he didn’t last long enough then to provide a sample size big enough for Cougars fans to get excited about.
Fast forward to the present and that’s all changing.
It took some time to find his rhythm in front of 54,000 in Las Vegas, but Hall did enough to fend of Arizona in week one.
But last Saturday was different. Take any high school kid in the state of Utah, and chances are they wouldn’t even remember that November day back in 2009.
Coincidentally, it was another Hall who got it done 12 years earlier when both schools were still in the Mountain West. Max Hall, who threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Andrew George is now 35-years-old, never having imagined at the time that he might have to wait another decade-plus to see another victory over the Utes.
But, fittingly, Hall was in attendance Saturday, proudly holding a blue flag to lead the Cougars onto the field where many assumed Charlie Brewer might be the quarterback we’d all be talking about.
For example, the grad transfer twice surpassed 3,000 yards during his days at Baylor; but perhaps as an outsider, didn’t quite understand the magnitude of the Holy War. At least until he was directly in the middle of it.
The rivalry numbers speak for themselves. Despite the nine-game Utah win-streak, most of them have been nail-biters. In fact, 17 of the last 23 dating back to the mid-90s had finished within a touchdown or less.
Credit Whittingham’s ability to close out tight games, and though the Utes certainly made BYU Nation nervous last weekend following a Micah Bernard touchdown rumble with nine and-a-half minutes, it was Hall that quickly smashed all that momentum with a Louisville Slugger.
Beating Utah’s defense to the outside, Hall’s fourth quarter, 60-yard touchdown was called back for stepping out of bounds. But No. 3 was unfazed by the distraction, keeping the offense moving and eating valuable clock to set up a late Jake Oldroyd field-goal to make it a two-score game again.
Where I come from, we call that, quarterback moxy — the redshirt sophomore adding three touchdown balls, not to mention, outshining Brewer.
All in all, it brought the student section onto the field, and the Cougars off the rivalry schneid.
Of course, a long Hall (pun intended) still awaits the Cougars, with a schedule that includes four more teams from the Pac-12 alone. Expect Jaren’s fortune to start hitting some road-blocks at some point going forward, but he’s off to a banging start — and with another golden opportunity in front of him this week. 19th ranked Arizona State will be ready, because the secret is out.