Cougar Kickoff Countdown: 43 Days

George Frey

BYU fans love the great finishes to games that Cougar QBs often provide; Hall to George, Beck to Harline, Sarkisian to Kealaluhi, Young's reception for a touchdown against Missouri, and McMahon to Brown. But, do you remember Gifford Nielsen's unlikely game winning pass against Arizona in '76?

In 1976 BYU played the University of Arizona in Tuscon, Arizona the same night of a rare, and torrential, rainstorm. With four minutes left in the game the Wildcats kicked a field goal to tie the game 16-16. The Cougars and Wildcats exchanged punts until there were 20 seconds left on the clock and BYU had the ball on the Arizona 43-yard line. Head coach LaVell Edwards wasn't willing to settle for a tie, but was also twenty yards out of field goal range.

Gifford Nielsen took the snap and rolled left but nothing was open. With the help of Lance Reynolds and Lloyd Fairbanks blocking, he was able to switch fields and roll back to the right. By this point the play was taking too long to set up a field goal and receivers were still not open. Nielsen threw the ball towards the end zone. Former Voice of the Cougars Paul James described what happened next in his book Cougar Tales:

"He actually had a receiver in the end zone, but the ball, thrown on the dead run, was short of the end zone. An Arizona defensive back jumped up at the five-yard line to snare the interception. The moist ball slipped right through his hands and was deflected five yards into the end zone, right into the hands of a surprised George Harris, who was lamenting the fact that the ball had not originally been thrown to him. Touchdown BYU!"

The Cougars won 23-16.

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