(Click here to read the story at The Daily Universe.)
By Anna Bryner and Elisa Huhem
BYU defensive back Dayan Ghanwoloku is skilled at stopping fast runners. But when hundreds of them rushed at him on Sept. 14, the BYU football senior had met his match.
Ghanwoloku and his teammates were bombarded by fans after he clinched a game-winning interception in overtime against No. 24 USC.
Cougar linebacker Payton Wilgar hurried to help Ghanwoloku up after his interception, but the two were pushed from all angles by people rushing the field.
“I was trying to create a barrier with my arms, trying not to get completely squished, but the excitement and the energy was out of this world,” Wilgar said.
As fans and players converged in a roaring pulse on the playing field, they failed to hear that the officials had called the play under review. When the ruling of the interception was upheld, fans stormed the field again in celebration.
In the midst of their excitement, some Cougar fans may not have realized what effect rushing the field could have had on the game’s outcome.
If the officials had overturned the disputed interception ruling, USC would have retained possession. BYU could have incurred an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, sending the Trojans to the 6-yard line. From there, USC would have been well poised to outscore BYU’s overtime field goal.
However, the possibility of causing BYU a penalty may not have crossed most fans’ minds.
BYU junior Jason Glenn was one of the avid fans who rushed the field. Glenn said that as soon as some of the students began storming the field, he felt that everyone had unspoken permission to follow. The intensity of the game and its close ending were a catalyst for the celebratory rushing, according to Glenn.
“It wasn’t like we were clearly winning or clearly losing. It was up in the air, so when we won it was really exciting and everyone rushed the field,” Glenn said.
BYU defensive lineman Bracken El-Bakri said that fan enthusiasm played a major role in throwing off USC’s offense.
“I heard the crowd go wild and it wasn’t until I saw people running onto the field that I realized that we had won the game,” El-Bakri said.
Not everyone was so eager to jump into the chaotic activity. Graduate student Austin Vaterlaus said he and his wife were screaming with excitement when Ghanwoloku caught the interception, but they didn’t rush the field.
“I do feel like it was a little bit of an overreaction, just for the ranking of the team and just kind of the situation,” Vaterlaus said.
Though he stayed in his seat at the end of the game, Vaterlaus said he can understand why the students rushed. “The very end of the game — it was definitely very exciting,” he said. “This was our first home game this season that we won.”
The Sept. 14 win marked the Cougars’ first home victory against a ranked opponent under head coach Kalani Sitake, now in his fourth season as the Cougars’ head coach.
If rushing the field had remained a tradition for exciting wins, BYU could count its independent status as a blessing. Conferences throughout the country are cracking down on post-game field celebrations.
In the SEC, for example, teams can face a $50,000 fine for a first-time offense of rushing the field. LSU was fined $100,000 last season after fans rushed the field following a victory over No. 2 Georgia. Since the storming celebration was the Tigers’ second offense, they face a $250,000 fine if fans rush the field again. The Pac-12 has a similar policy. Both conferences cite safety as a major concern.
Some top NCAA football programs have never seen their fans rush the field. Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium and Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, also known as “The Swamp,” remain untouched by fans.
Vaterlaus said he thinks storming the field is most appropriate for competitive rivalries, national championships and underdog victories.
Some fans were happy just to take advantage of the exciting opportunity. BYU freshman Jacob Taylor said the only thing he was thinking about when he decided to rush was the energy emanating from the field as the students ran in droves.
“Everyone was super excited. It has been a while since I have been to a football game with that kind of energy,” Taylor said.