1996 Cotton Bowl: BYU 19, Kansas State 15

Cougars cotton to historic 14th win

By Loren Jorgensen
Deseret News Sports Writer

Published: Monday, Dec. 4 2000 12:00 a.m. MST

The Kansas State football team remained strangely quiet during numerous joint gatherings with BYU players this week.

At the video arcade at the West End MarketPlace, at various luncheons and dinners and even when both teams went to see the comedic stylings of Sinbad, very little friendly interaction took place between the players. The Wildcats wouldn't even shake hands or make small talk, apparently in an attempt to psych out and/or show disrespect to BYU.

At least that's the way the Cougars took it.

But once the 61st Cotton Bowl started, the Wildcats became more talkative. In fact, their mouths were yapping like crazy.

"They wouldn't shut up," said the Cougars' senior quarterback Steve Sarkisian. "They were saying things like, "Hey, Sark, this isn't the WAC. This is the big time.' "

It appears, however, that the Cougs were ready for the so-called "big time," even if K-State — not to mention the bowl alliance — may have previously thought otherwise.

BYU scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to stage a come-from-behind victory over the Wildcats, 19-15. The Cougs became the all-time single-season winningest team in NCAA history in the process. Fifth-ranked BYU improved to 14-1 with its first-ever victory in a New Year's Day game, becoming the only Division I-A team to win more than 13 times in a season.

"Winning 14 games is a great accomplishment," said running back Brian McKenzie. "It could be duplicated in the future, but we'll always be the team that accomplished it first. It's something that you can look back on and tell your kids."

The Cougars have finished the season ranked in the country's top five only once — when they won the national title in 1984. Friday, when the final polls are announced, BYU will likely be somewhere between third and fifth.

"We proved we're for real," said senior linebacker Shay Muirbrook, the game's outstanding defensive player as selected by the media.

Defense, so often overshawdowed during the 25-year LaVell Edwards coaching regime in Provo, was the key ingredient in what is arguably one of the top two or three wins in the annals of BYU football.

"A Christmas gift" — as Muirbrook called it — and one other long pass provided the only scores for 14th-ranked Kansas State in front of 71,928 fans, most donned in Wildcat purple.

If it hadn't been for a fling-and-a-prayer bomb on the last play of the first half and a short pass that was turned into a 72-yard TD in the third quarter, the Cougars would have kept K-State scoreless.

"This is probably the best defense we've ever had at BYU," said Edwards.

But because of those two big K-State plays and BYU's inability to get much going offensively, the Cougars found themselves trailing 15-5 in the fourth quarter against one of the nation's top defenses. As if that didn't make the Cougs' odds long enough, Sarkisian — who had been treated like a rag doll by the Wildcats — was playing with a sore right (throwing) shoulder.

K-State wasn't entirely healthy either. All-American Chris Canty, who was arrested for drunken driving last month, apparently hadn't had enough to drink Wednesday, as he was forced to leave due to dehydration. One play later Canty's replacement, Demetric Denmark, was burned deep by BYU's James Dye. Sarkisian found him for a 32-yard touchdown with 10:55 to play. Cougar kicker Ethan Pochman's point after was good to cut the gap to 15-12.

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