On this date in 1980, the Mormons stormed back.
If styles make fights, then the 1980 Holiday Bowl was set to be a classic. SMU's original ground and pound option attack vs. the LaVell Edwards air it out style. SMU's defense gave up just 13 points a game, but they also hadn't seen a team so proficient at throwing the ball around.
For a half the SMU’s game plan worked. Eric Dickerson and Craig James both scored, James on a fake punt, and with four minutes left in the first, SMU led 19-0.
The Cougars finally got out of the gates with a 64-yard touchdown throw by Jim McMahon, but at the half SMU led 29-13.
Whatever halftime adjustments BYU made, they didn't work, at least initially. SMU took the second half kickoff and marched 75 yards in twelve plays to go up 35-13. The high-water mark for the Pony's lead in the game.
The near-sellout crowd had long since thinned to half capacity and shrinking. The Mustangs started playing backup defenders.
BYU cut the lead to 38-25 but a James 42 yard touchdown run put the Mustangs back up by 20.
From that point forward two things happened, 1) BYU's defense suddenly became stingy and 2) Jim McMahon happened.
McMahon made up for lost time, throwing for 250 yards in the fourth quarter and picking SMU apart. But with four minutes left, BYU had little to show for it. McMahon hit Matt Braga for a touchdown. It seemed like an oh by the way touchdown.
BYU executed an onside kick, barely. The cover team almost overran the ball before somehow digging it out of the pile at midfield. On third and one from the SMU 41, McMahon dropped back, and SMU flushed him to his left where he spotted Bill Davis streaking down the left sideline. McMahon dropped it in the bucket, and the Cougars had a first and goal at the one-foot line. They scored a play later and the lead shrunk to six.
BYU again attempted an onside kick, this time SMU recovered it at the BYU 47. The Mustangs failed to pick up a first and after a delay of game, BYU blocked the SMU punt giving the Cougars the ball at the 42 of SMU with under 20 seconds to play.
Due to what we assume are BYU's religious proclivities, the Cougars didn't have a "Hail Mary" play. Oh no, Joseph Smith wouldn't have that. Instead, they had a play with the less catchy name "Save the Game." The Cougars never used it in a game and used in practice only to break up the monotony by having players practice catch tipped passes.
The Save the Game Play worked to perfection as Clay Brown jumped up amidst a sea of SMU defenders to come down with the ball and tie the game as time expired. An untimed down later, BYU notched the extra point, and the Cougars secured the greatest come from behind victory in their history.
While BYU players celebrated and contemplated where they were going to spend their next mission trip, SMU's shell-shocked team quietly walked off the field, through the end zone where their dreams became a nightmare and into a somber locker room.