Garrett Gilbert stepped back and calmly squinted toward the end zone.
The play is called “Berlin,” and the Longhorns run it at the end of every Thursday practice. It’s a desperation play that rarely works, even in practice.
“Only on video games,” said receiver James Kirkendoll.
But already leading Florida Atlantic 17-7 with one play left in the first half, Texas decided to give it a shot. With virtually no pass rush pressure, Gilbert had plenty of time to let his receivers
“It’s pretty much a play where everybody runs to the end zone, and he just puts it up there,” said receiver Malcolm Williams.
Standing 53 yards from a miracle but wearing none of his usual pressure, Gilbert reared back and hurled it deep. Time expired as the ball floated and floated in the air, making its way toward a pack of receivers and defenders waiting patiently in the anticipated landing zone.
“It felt like I was sitting there forever,” Williams said. “I kind of wanted to go get a hot dog.”
But instead, Williams stayed in the back of a pack of players, and full of faith, he simply put his hands up — didn’t jump, didn’t move. When the ball somehow stuck to his hands for the touchdown, Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium erupted in ecstatic disbelief. With the way this season has gone for the Longhorns, most people watching expected an interception or an incompletion on the Hail Mary play.
“In 38 years, that was the first time I’ve ever completed one,” said offensive coordinator Greg Davis. “That doesn’t happen very often, but Garrett threw a perfect ball, and Malcolm went on top of everybody and got it.”
Gilbert triumphantly pumped his fists in celebration, as if he were thinking, “Finally.” In his 10-month tenure as Texas’ quarterback, he hasn’t had many of those plays. Entering the game having thrown more than twice as many interceptions as touchdowns and dealing with receivers that have consistently dropped passes, Gilbert was in unfamiliar territory as he ran into the halftime locker room.
“I honestly couldn’t tell it was Malcolm that caught it,” Gilbert said. “But then I heard the crowd, and by that time, I was pretty excited and running down the sideline.”
Williams said if it were his decision, the catch would’ve easily made ESPN SportsCenter’s top 10 plays, preferably in the top five. The play didn’t get that kind of love, probably because of unranked Texas’ irrelevance on the national landscape. But regardless of how the Longhorns are perceived outside of their locker room, Saturday night’s 51-17 victory has the inside believing the season has finally turned around with one game to spare and bowl eligibility on the line. Texas head coach Mack Brown said the play epitomized the game, and the Longhorns are hoping that it will represent a strong finish to a miserable season.
They’re still in a 5-6 hole on the season, but Williams’ catch could go a long way for a team that finally has momentum.
“That was the point where we could finally say, ‘Let’s have fun,’” Williams said. “Things are finally starting to go our way. Everybody sees now that we’re having fun; we can come up with those plays. This was a big momentum for all of us.”