Beck to Harline: The oral history of the answered prayer
Story by Kevin Hatch. Graphic by Gabby Stockard.
What can we learn about iconic moments in BYU sports from the people who were actually there in the moment? The Daily Universe is creating a series of oral histories to do just that.
On Nov. 25, 2006, after going down late in the game, BYU quarterback John Beck led the Cougars down the field to set up an unforgettable moment in the BYU-Utah rivalry. The iconic play, known forever as “Beck to Harline” or “The Answered Prayer,” was ingrained in the minds of BYU fans, with Johnny Harline cradling the ball on his knees in the end zone, then rising triumphantly with fans in red all around him. This is the Oral History of The Answered Prayer.
Part I: The Game
Greg Wrubell (BYU play-by-play): BYU led this game by double digits early. BYU was up 14-to-nothing in this game.
Jonny Harline (BYU tight end): I had a nice catch on the first play of the game, which was big for me because I hadn’t had a great game against Utah the year before.
Nate Meikle (BYU wide receiver): Johnny is just one of the best athletes I’ve ever known and was just making all kinds of acrobatic plays.
Bryan Kehl (BYU linebacker): We jumped out to a quick lead. It looked like it was going to be an easy win for us.
Kalani Sitake (Utah linebackers coach, former BYU player, and current BYU head coach): Seeing BYU and how dangerous their team was, they could do so many different things. We knew it was going to be a tough game.
BYU scored the first 14 points, but then Utah rallied to take the lead, 24-14.
Steve Frost (BYU fan): Things started turning and the tension was just so thick there.
Wrubell: BYU went from the first quarter to the fourth quarter without scoring any points.
Harline: There were a few penalties here and there, just the little things that cause stalls in football.
Marc Lyons (BYU analyst): Similar to a lot of the BYU-Utah games, when Utah maybe is not going to be as good as BYU, they end up playing better than they normally do.
BYU started the fourth quarter with a quick touchdown to cut the deficit down to four, 24-20.
Wrubell: BYU scored later in the quarter; they now go up only 27-24.
Utah then scored again late in the fourth quarter to go up 31-27.
Kehl: They threw this bubble screen that was the opposite of our blitz. It was the perfect play call for what we had called and just bad timing for us. It was about a 20-yard touchdown they got on that play.
Wrubell: Utah scored that touchdown with under 90 seconds to go in the game.
Kehl: That gave them the lead. And I remember just being devastated in the moment just thinking ‘man, we just blew it.’
Frost: They score and they’re going crazy. And me and my brother were like, ‘I can’t believe this. We’ve been leading the whole game and we’re going to lose with a-minute-30 left.’
John Beck (BYU quarterback): When they scored, I just remember my inner voice being like, ‘I am walking like we are winning. We will win this game.’
Part II: The final drive
Wrubell: That drive starts for BYU with 1:09 to go in the game.
Beck: Their entire place was erupting but inside of me I was feeling like, ‘No, I am not walking out on this field and having a drive where we don’t walk off the winner.’ I know what that feels like because that happened the year before in overtime.
Kehl: I knew there was enough time, our offense was good enough. I knew that we could do it.
Beck: There was this feeling of everything that was invested up to that point (paying off), all of the offseason workouts, all the going back and throwing extra with my guys late at night while my wife was at work.
Meikle: We started moving the ball and John was connecting with people.
Beck: I remember giving myself a checklist. I know that there is this much time left with this many timeouts, this is how I need to try to push the ball down the field.
Sitake: Beck’s style of football just makes things really difficult to defend.
Beck: I remember hitting Curtis Brown. Curtis made two or three people miss. That saved us a timeout.
Wrubell: They get to a fourth-and-four. They had to convert a fourth down at their own 46-yard line.
Beck: I can remember the fourth down, just trying to have a feel of ‘how many are they truly bringing and how many are they truly dropping?’ I had to utilize my eyes.
Wrubell: Harline makes a 16-yard catch on fourth-and-four to keep the game alive.
Beck: Then I just remember another big throw to McKay Jacobson with somebody right in my face. Once he caught that, I knew we’re going to have shots at the end zone.
Wrubell: BYU ends up driving it down to the 11-yard line.
Part III: The final play
Wrubell: I remember the crowd was just electric.
Beck: Glancing up at the scoreboard, I saw the time on the clock, I fully recognized the score. And there was the calmest feeling of just playing ball like it’s any other play.
Meikle: What are the odds that you’re going to score a touchdown there? 10 times out of 10 I’d rather be the defense in that situation.
Harline: I started on the right side, and they double-teamed me. They had Bryce McCain right up on me and Eric Weddle behind.
Lyons: The year before in the overtime game, BYU comes down to a fourth-down play in overtime, to try to tie it. Beck had more time to wait and see in that game, but he rushed it.
Beck: Back then in my junior year, I thought, ‘I don’t want to get in a situation where I’m holding on to the football too long.’ I learned that Kyle only brought one guy. I can make one guy miss.
Wrubell: Utah was laying off knowing that all they had to do is defend the end zone. It’s one play for a touchdown.
Beck: When I got up to the line of scrimmage and saw they were going to drop everybody. I knew I was going to buy as much time as I can.
Wrubell: When you’re snapping at the 11-yard line, you really only have 20 yards of vertical space to work with. And Utah was blanketing it well.
Beck: After the play was called Johnny said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ I told Jonny, ‘I might be moving around, and you’re just gonna have to get open.’
Kehl: I was standing on the sideline, I was holding hands with two other linebackers, Kelly Poppinga and David Nixon, and we were just in such anticipation.
Beck: As I scrambled right, I kind of peeked away for a second because I needed to know how much time I had.
Lyons: As Beck scrambles and moves out, he moves to the right side, the whole defense moves over with him as they’re probably instructed to do to stay in perspective with the quarterback.
Beck: I know I’m a better athlete than that guy chasing me. So, I’ll use all my time.
Harline: John went back to the right side, and everyone followed along. And I just kind of had this feeling like, ‘Hey, if I just hang back here and he sees me, I’m going to be wide open.’ So I just hung back.
Lyons: Harline’s on the right side of the field, and Beck is looking pretty much to the left and the center of the field.
Sitake: Beck ran all over the place.
Lyons: Harline now has gone all the way along the backline of the end zone, and nobody sees him and so as he comes out the other side, the defense is moving against him. He goes the other direction, leaving Harline wide open.
Beck: As I was running one way, I could feel their last few defenders to my left moving with me. And I just kind of saw this lone jersey kind of break through them and I thought if they keep coming and he keeps going he’s going to be open. I just got to get it to him.
Harline: I just kind of ended up behind everybody.
Sitake: I remember seeing that play, it seemed like it lasted so long because it did.
Frost: We were on the south end zone. The play occurred on the north end zone. So we kind of see the whole thing unfold. And I mean, it took like five minutes.
Harline: Beck just turned and chucked it back towards me and I realized at the last minute it was going to be kind of short. So I had to slide in dramatically and make the catch.
Frost: He’s throwing cross body as he’s falling down. And initially, it was like, where’s he throwing to?
Meikle: From my view of the sideline you just see Johnny come sliding in and catch it.
Mark Philbrick (BYU photographer): I found (Harline) and he started on his knees and started sliding. I thought, ‘Oh no, what if he catches it on the one-yard-line instead of in the endzone. I thought he’d come out of the end zone to get the ball.”
Frost: My initial thought was, ‘Oh, it’s going to fall short. He didn’t throw it far enough.’ And then he goes down on his knees and cradles it.
Beck: After that, it was just craziness.
Philbrick: Oh, it was just mayhem. Everybody was jumping on top of (Harline), then (Beck) being carried on the shoulders. Bronco (Mendenhall) was jumping up in the air. It was just great. It was one of those magical moments.
Frost: It was like an out-of-body experience. I literally lost control of my body. Everybody around us just goes dead quiet and we’re screaming and every BYU fan is just losing their mind.
August Miller (Deseret News photographer): That’s what made the shot for me, the Utah player on the ground, the BYU players throwing their helmets off. (Harline) stands up with the sea of red behind him.
Wrubell: When Johnny makes the catch, I say ‘caught for the touchdown’ three times. I guess I couldn’t think of anything else to say after the first call for the touchdown. It just sounded so good.
Sitake: You just don’t imagine that a quarterback is gonna be able to throw against his body, across the other side of the field, and have that much velocity at it.
Kehl: It was just amazing.
Miller: These moments, you could never recreate this in a movie. The authenticity and everything, it’s there. That emotion and that feeling and the looks on the people’s faces, the body language and all that.
Wrubell: The way John finished his career was storybook: beating Utah and winning in the bowl game.
Meikle: All that work we put in to get to the top of the conference and back to where BYU Football used to be, to have it slip through our fingers in the last moment would have been so painful. To experience that just made it so much more incredible.