BYU shocked the biggest San Diego State football crowd in history - not to mention the SDSU team - by coming back from a 28-point deficit to tie the Aztecs, 52-52.
The tie assures BYU (7-3-1 overall, 6-0-1 WAC) of at least a tie for the WAC title, and a berth in the Holiday Bowl - the big prize from this encounter. San Diego State (8-2-1, 6-1-1), meanwhile, can still tie for the WAC title (if BYU loses to Utah next week) but must settle for the Freedom (Consolation) Bowl.San Diego State should have seen it coming. This was, after all, BYU, the team that has had more incredible finishes than Steven Spielberg's movies. And that was Ty Detmer, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback whose middle name should be Merlin, on the other side of the line, throwing for career highs of 599 yards and six touchdowns.
But when the score reached 45-17 early in the third quarter, it was obvious the Aztecs thought this one was over. And why not? They had completed long passes at will against the Cougars; their defense had pressured Detmer into three interceptions and a bunch of incompletions; and the refs' calls - and non-calls - had so frustrated the BYU players that they appeared to be more interested in complaining than playing.
And then, the next thing anyone knew, BYU had scored 21 straight points. Jamal Willis takes a pass and goes 49 yards for one score, Byron Rex catches a 10-yard pass for another, and Detmer threw 10 yards to Peter Tuipulotu to make it 45-38.
San Diego State suddenly got interested again, scoring on a another long pass, this one to David Lowery to Keith Williams to go up 52-38 with 8:35 left. But Detmer led the Cougs on an eight-play, 72-yard drive that ended with a four-uard pass to Mark Atuaia. And there was still more than six minutes left to play.
San Diego State's next drive resulted in a 41-yard field-goal attempt, but it was wide right. That put the ball in Detmer's hands with 2:50 left, plenty of time. Six plays, including a 42-yard pass to Eric Drage, gave BYU first-and-goal at the Aztec five-yard line. After a BYU timeout, Detmer handed the ball to Willis, who went around the right side, untouched, into the end zone.
BYU coach LaVell Edwards had already said that if it he had a chance to tie it, he would take it, because a tie meant a Cougar trip to the Holiday Bowl. Even if BYU loses to Utah next week, the Cougars and Aztecs would have identical 6-1-1 WAC records. The tiebreaker would then be how the teams fared against the next-highest WAC team, and that's Air Force. BYU beat Air Force; SDSU lost to the Falcons; BYU gets the Holiday Bowl - and Big 10 runner-up Iowa.
Cougars and Aztecs alike said this week that Jack Murphy Stadium was right where they wanted to be, battling it out for that Holiday Bowl berth, and for parts of the game both teams played like it. They just rarely played like it at the same times.
The first quarter was fairly even, but in the second quarter the SDSU defense, spurred by a near-capacity crowd, took control of the game, repeatedly shutting BYU down while Aztec quarterback David Lowery completed deep passes - and touchdowns - almost at will. Under almost no pressure from the BYU pass rush, Lowery sat in the pocket and waited for the speedier Aztec receivers to get behind the BYU defenders. In the first half, Lowery threw TD passes of 75, 79 and 80 yards.
BYU was hampered somewhat by the loss of cornerbacks Ervin Lee and Paul Pitts. Lee sat out the game after being cited in a shoplifting incident this week; Pitts was cited in the same incident and then followed that up by wrecking his car the next night, suffering a concussion in the process.
BYU coach LaVell Edwards would probably say otherwise, but it's unlikely that the presence of Lee - a starter - and Pitts - the No. 1 backup and nickel back - would have made that big a difference. Lee's replacement, Patrick Mitchell, is considered the fastest player on the BYU team, and he watched helplessly several times as Lowery threw passes over his head and into the arms of receivers. They weren't running tricky routes, folks, they were just flat outrunning the Cougars.
And while Lowery was enjoying time to throw, BYU's jumbo offensive line was having trouble stopping the rush of the smaller, quicker Aztec defensive front. Y. quarterback Ty Detmer was sacked four times through three quarters, after not being sacked at all the past two games.
After getting behind 45-17 early in the third quarter, BYU took over.
Detmer ended up completing 31 of 54, with three interceptions. Lowery, the strong-armed sophomore who remains undefeated as a starter, was 27 of 541 for 569 yards.
The Cougars next play Utah, Saturday in Provo, and it appears they may be shorthanded, or at least playing hurt. Besides Lee and Pitts, whose status remains up in the air, receiver Nati Valdez suffered a broken collarbone in the second quarter, ending his season; offensive lineman Tom Ladd pulled an abdominal muscle; and Kauffman's knee continues to bother him.
GAME NOTES: The last time BYU had a seven-game win streak, in 1988, a weak San Diego State team stopped it . . . It was the third 500-plus yard passing performance of Detmer's career.
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