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SALT LAKE CITY — Last year he was sitting on the sideline at LaVell Edwards Stadium when Utah football beat rival BYU for the seventh-consecutive time. This time, Jason Shelley experienced the rivalry under center and helped the Utes preserve their winning streak with a comeback win for the ages.
“This was the biggest game of the season for us,” Shelley said after the game.
The quarterback, a Texas native, didn’t understand the history behind the state’s biggest game until he came to Utah. But Shelley said his first game against the Cougars was exactly what he expected.
“Last year was kind of a learning experience on the sideline, feeling the energy,” Shelley said. “(I) came out and could tell right away that this is a serious game.”
Utah had a less-than-ideal start to the game. Utah's defense forced BYU to go three-and-out, but the Utes fumbled on the punt return, giving the ball right back to the Cougars on Utah's 33-yard line.
The struggle continued as Utah went three-and-out on all three of their drives in the first quarter. When the team started to get first downs, more things went wrong — like a Matt Gay 54-yard field goal attempt getting blocked. And as a result, the Utes trailed 20-0 at the half with a whopping 86 yards of total offense compared to BYU’s 247.
But, there was a moment in the first half that was amazing thanks to Shelley’s reflexes. The 5-foot-11 quarterback leaped over BYU cornerback Keenan Ellis for a first down that wowed the crowd.
“What’s crazy is I always say never hurdle anybody,” he said. “I’ve never hurdled anybody before and I just tell people, ‘Don’t hurdle, it’s dangerous. It’s not the right thing to do.’ That was a reflex.”
“That was crazy,” Utah cornerback Julian Blackmon added.
Even head coach Kyle Whittingham thought the move was impressive.
“I didn’t get a good look at that because it was on the other side, but it looked pretty spectacular from where I was,” Whittingham said.
The Utes were finally able to come together in the second half, though, and Shelley and the Utah offense gained momentum after Blackmon picked off the ball to get Utah on the board.
“We were kind of in a slump. We needed somebody to make a play on offense,” Shelley said. “Julian supported the offense on a defensive play. It gave us some energy, some life. We capitalized on it.”
From that point on, Shelley steered Utah on its rally while the defense did its part. The Utes had 131 of its 296 total offensive yards (44.5 percent) in the fourth quarter. BYU only had 110 yards in the second half.
Shelley finished 19 of 28 for 141 yards and a touchdown. He also topped Utah’s rushing stats with a career-high 61 yards on 11 carries, including a 33-yard rushing touchdown to lock the win with 1:43 left in the game.
Utah led by 1 point with under 2 minutes left to play. The redshirt freshman was looking to run off as much time off the clock, but saw an opening and rushed 33 yards to the end zone with the help of an impressive stiff arm to a defender.
“I was trying to run the clock out but there was a lot of grass so I figured I could seal the game with a touchdown,” Shelley said.
“That last play, I don’t even know if he was planning on keeping that,” Whittingham said. “I was fooled. I thought he had given it, then he was just kind of standing there and all of a sudden he takes off. That was a heck of a run to avoid that last defender.”
Shelley’s efforts go in the record book as Utah’s third all-time largest deficit overcome for a win. It’s the largest deficit comeback against BYU.
"Jason is unflappable and nothing seems to bother him," Whittingham said. "He has a short memory."