Soccer is the sport that requires the most planning. There are thick playbooks and long hours of movie study and detail-obsessed practices that lead to literal scripts for how coaches imagine a game to unfold. And then they start and much of it goes straight to the dumpster.
That is one of the great beauties of the game. Prepare for everything, then react on the fly when the prep is no longer applied. Heroism can come suddenly and unexpectedly. Spontaneity can still win the day.
In the landscape of a typically rebellious college football weekend, spontaneity won out on two consecutive days, Sept. 17 and Sept. 18. Two amazing plays of sheer instinct that profoundly impacted games and possibly seasons, when all is said and done. Two plays thousands of miles apart that drove the crowds wild, and that both fan bases are still talking about today (maybe losing fans are too).
One occurred Friday night, perpetrated by a running back turned linebacker who turned running back on the spot. Time: 10:57 pm ET. The other came Saturday night, perpetrated by a linebacker turned running back who became a linebacker on the spot. The time: 10:56 pm MT.
This is the kind of improvisational serendipity that sport produces. All the time.
The first play was in the game between Central Florida and Louisville. The undefeated Knights had just made a pass from Malik Cunningham into Louisville territory with just 24 seconds left in a tied game. The last chance to win in regulation apparently belonged to UCF, which only needed a first try to get into potential range for field goals.
Quarterback Dillon Gabriel threw a hidden route to Amari Johnson, whose concentration could have been affected by the fall of a Louisville lineman in cover. The ball bounced off Johnson’s hands, and freshman Jaylin Alderman was the linebacker in the right place at the right time. Except it wasn’t actually supposed to be in the game.
This moment of pressure was his first defensive play in that game, after participating in kick-off coverage. It was only the fifth or sixth play of his college career on defense, with a single tackle on his cleanup duty against Eastern Kentucky under his belt. Alderman was pushed into this urgent situation by an injury to starting linebacker Monty Montgomery, and then ended up with this gift from the football gods: a ball with the tip falling into his hands at Louisville’s 34-yard line.
That’s when Alderman’s high school running instincts kicked in (he played both ways, but was drafted as a linebacker, with Louisville his only serious Power 5 suitor). On 5 ’11, “215-pound soccer seedbed from Valdosta, Georgia, ran to the right sideline, in front of the delusional Louisville bench, and kept running until he was in the end zone. Low speed on me,” he said. Alderman Illustrated Sports. “When the ball fell into my hands, I knew I had to try to score. It really was like a muscle memory. “
The only UCF player to shoot him was the unfortunate Johnson, who was easily blocked out of the way just before the goal line. Suddenly, Jaylin Alderman had gone from virtual anonymity to savior in the time it took him to rush 66 yards. “I went back to the locker room and looked at my phone, and I got an alert from the ESPN app, and it was about me,” Alderman says. “It was incredible, a dream come true. I went crazy.”
For a defeated Louisville fanbase, this was an adrenaline rush. After a promising first season under coach Scott Satterfield, the show fell back to 4-7 in 2020. Then Satterfield flirted with the South Carolina job, eroding the first love relationship he had enjoyed in the city. Meanwhile, the men’s basketball program had been rocked by scandal and was coming off a rare miss from the NCAA tournament.
It hadn’t turned out much good in a long time until Alderman showed up late last Friday. It didn’t take long for the “Councilor for Mayor” jokes to circulate around town.
The second play was in the Arizona-BYU state game. The undefeated Sun Devils were, despite their own incompetence punishable by penalties, roaming the road in Provo. They had scored 10 points in the third quarter to cut a deficit from 21–7 to 21-17, and they had just pressured Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall to make a very regrettable decision.
With a tackler wrapped around his leg, Hall attempted to throw a shot in the direction of a receiver along the sideline. Linebacker Merlin Robertson raised his hands to intercept him and then sailed into the end zone about 70 yards away. That’s when running back Tyler Allgeier took matters into his own hands. Or fist.
Allgeier, who had been in the backfield with pass protection on the play, set off in search of Robertson. After initially colliding with Hall and nearly falling, Allgeier said it didn’t take long for him to realize he was faster than ASU’s linebacker, and that it was a matter of time before he caught up with him. But then what? “He wasn’t going to score,” Allgeier told SI. “So I thought, ‘What are the chances that I will take it off?’ “
Then Allgeier, who spent the 2019 season recording 26 tackles as a linebacker for BYU because he couldn’t enter the field as a running back, did something straight out of the stuntman’s action movie playbook. It was actually better than that, because you could shoot 1000 shots and it was never that perfect.
Allgeier grabbed Robertson’s left shoulder, jumped onto his back and threw a downward punch with his right hand that released the ball so cleanly that it lay there on the Lavell Edwards Stadium turf like an Easter egg waiting to be discovered. Soon enough, the hasty Hall made up for his throwing error by landing on the ball. BYU retained both possession and the lead, the latter for the remainder of the night.
“I was literally trying to do my eleventh,” Allgeier says with admirable modesty. “I had never done that before or practiced that before, that was an unpracticed hit. But now I have that in my arsenal. ”
You now have BYU’s folk hero in your arsenal, especially if this undefeated season continues on the right track. If he doesn’t make that play, the Cougars could fall behind and lose. But he made that play, and now they have three wins over Pac-12 opponents with three more Power 5 opponents plus Boise State and undefeated Utah State on the schedule.
After an 11-1 season in 2020 that sparked no serious college football playoff consideration, BYU could bring a better resume to the table this year. But if the Cougars hadn’t beaten ranked Arizona state, no one would be paying attention. And if Allgeier hadn’t made his game-changing play, they may not have beaten Arizona State.
Truly, Allgeier’s entire college career has been a rush game. Recruited by almost no one important from Fontana, California, he was considering taking a partial scholarship to Division II Southern Nazarene in Oklahoma when he got the opportunity to visit BYU. Coach Kalani Sitake offered him a preferred walking position. Allgeier had loved the visit. He looked at his mom, who gave him her blessing. “We will make it work if you put in 110%,” he told her.
He received a full scholarship after the 2019 season, the second at BYU. “I bet on myself,” he says. That was the year he played linebacker and special teams. Last year he was a running back again, leading the team in rushing with 1,130 yards and in touchdowns with 13. This year he’s on track for another 1,000-yard season.
But for now, the play most people will remember first when it comes to Allgeier is the one where he reverted to his defensive instincts and performed the Immaculate Punch. He expressed the hope of every college football player, every athlete, really, and the optimism they must have in every competition: “You literally never know when your time will come.”
In the midst of the chaos of a play that deviates from the script, it may suddenly be your moment. Be prepared.
More college football coverage:
• Week 4 Elections: Who will close September with a victory?
• Can Cincinnati lift the Group of 5 to new heights?
• Five games for the conference title New Faces Could Collapse
• What would a group of 12 teams look like after week 3
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.