By ED BRANNON – Sports editor
Had Karen Koyack known months ago what would happen on Jan. 7, she definitely would’ve pushed her partial knee replacement surgery back a few weeks.
Then again, if her son keeps catching game-winning touchdown passes, all that jumping around may cause further damage.
“My knee’s been bothering me for a long time, and I finally decided to have something done,” she said from her Oil City home earlier this week. “If only I’d have known then, obviously I would’ve put the surgery off for a month.”
It’s amazing to think that a 1-yard touchdown pass can change people’s lives in an instant, but that’s precisely what happened when Koyack, a backup tight end, latched onto Blake Bortles’ short flip during the closing seconds of the third quarter, the only touchdown in the Jaguars’ 10-3 win over the visiting Buffalo Bills in an AFC Wild Card playoff game.
After catching just five passes for 38 yards during the 16-game regular season, the 6-foot-5-inch, 258-pound Koyack couldn’t have picked a better time to score his first NFL postseason touchdown.
Meanwhile, back in Oil City, Karen Koyack was watching the game at home with another son, Michael, and his wife, Lindsey, along with daughter Lauren Platt and her husband, Brian. Across town, Ben’s father, Dave, and his wife, Kay, were also tuned in to the big game.
Then, with 42 seconds left in the third quarter and the Jaguars facing a fourth-and-goal at the Buffalo 1, Ben slipped out on a pass route, got a step ahead of Bills linebacker Ramon Humber and made a tough catch near the back of the end zone. He made sure to get both feet down before falling out of bounds, giving Jacksonville a 10-3 lead that would stand up the rest of the way.
“I knew the ball was going to Ben because he was the only one running a route,” Michael Koyak recalled. “I remember, ‘Oh my God, that is Ben’ and we all started jumping around and celebrating.”
“We were making so much noise that we scared our mother’s dog, Ollie,” Lauren Platt said. “Everybody was going nuts. It was so exciting.”
During the frenzy, Michael Koyack said his phone went off – it was his father.
Maybe that’s because Ben Koyack has done it before – Oct. 4, 2014, to be precise.
On that day, Koyack snagged a 23-yard touchdown pass from Everett Golson with a little more than a minute left as Notre Dame stunned Stanford, 17-14, during Koyack’s senior year with the Irish.
It was perhaps his defining moment during his four years with the Irish, who landed the prized recruit after a stellar high school career in which he set numerous Oil City and District 10 receiving records and earned first team All-State honors as a senior.
While his college statistics were rather mediocre – 44 catches in 42 career games for 532 yards and five touchdowns – Koyack was still thought of highly by NFL scouts and was taken in the seventh round by the Jaguars in the 2015 NFL draft.
After spending his entire first season on the practice squad, Koyack took on a larger role in 2016, finishing with 19 catches for 161 yards and his lone regular-season touchdown.
However, the team went just 3-13 and head coach Gus Bradley was fired and replaced by former Bills coach Doug Marrone. He and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin were determined to turn the team’s fortunes around with a dominating defense and powerful ground game.
It’s a return visit to the Steel City for the Jaguars, who set the tone for their turnaround season back on Oct. 8 when the defense picked off Ben Roethlisberger five times (two for touchdowns) in a dominating 30-9 victory.
Most of Koyack’s family was on hand for that game, but on Sunday, only Michael Koyack and Lindsey Koyack will make the trip.
“My aunt, Karla, gave us her tickets because she’s staying with my mom this week to help her get around,” Michael Koyack said, adding that Steelers season tickets have been in the Koyack family for 40 years. “Plus, she said it’s going to be too cold.”
Since Michael Koyack usually hosts the family get-togethers for Jaguars games because his wife “is an excellent cook,” this week’s gathering will take place at mom’s – for obvious reasons.
“Brian and I are going to watch the game with mom and we’ll make a party of it,” Lauren Platt said.
Although Dave and Kay Koyack are avid campers, they’re planning to stay close to home on Sunday to help tend to an ailing relative.
“We go camping a lot and I listen to all the Jaguars games on Sirius radio,” Dave Koyack said. “The sweet spot is the A section at Two Mile Run Park. I think it’s one of the highest spots at the campground.”
While all the Koyacks will be pulling for the Jaguars on Sunday, they’re all facing some internal conflicts since every one of them – including a young Ben – are all devout Steelers fans.
“I’m loyal to the Steelers, but whenever ‘little bro’ is playing, we pull for Benny’s team,” Lauren Platt said.
Michael Koyack added, “Only my brother could get me to go to Heinz Field twice in the same season and root against the Steelers!”
As for who they think will win Sunday’s rematch, well, that’s the $64 million dollar question.
“I think it will definitely be much closer than the first time,” Dave Koyack offered. I’m scared to make a prediction.
“The Steelers are looking good. If Blake (Bortles) can throw the ball well and if the defense steps up like the first time, I think they can pull it off. My wife is hoping the Jaguars make it all the way to the Super Bowl so she can see … Justin Timberlake!”