BYU coaches and players were worried about starting slowly Saturday night against Arizona State.
Their start, despite two byes in the last three weeks, wasn't a problem. The Cougars had their strongest opening minutes of the year. It was the end that killed the Cougs.The Sun Devils came from eight-points down in the final quarter to win, 29-21.
A costly BYU fumble, a roughing the punter penalty, a controversial bomb and an interception returned for a TD in the final minute were the keys to the non-conference ASU victory.
Robert Nycz's chip shot, 20-yard field goal with 5:27 proved to be the game-winning points, giving the Sun Devils a 22-21 lead. The Cougars' hopes were completely dashed when a Steve Sarkisian pass was intercepted by ASU linebacker Scott Von der Ahe and returned 36-yards for a score with 48 seconds left.
The Cougs still had a remote chance to avoid defeat.
They got good field position after the kickoff and moved down the field. A touchdown and a two-point conversion would have tied the game. They reached the Arizona State 21-yard line with 2 seconds to play, the clock stopping as the chains were moved for the first down. Sarkisian decided to gamble and spike the ball to stop the clock instead of taking the snap and throwing to the end zone. According to the officials, he didn't spike it soon enough as the clock started as soon as the chains were set and the ball was placed on the field.
Statistically the game couldn't have been much closer. BYU finished with 379 yards of total offense, while the Sun Devils had 374. Sarkisian completed 22 of 28 passes for 282 and two touchdowns, but had a pair of interceptions.
The Cougars, leading 21-19, had the Sun Devils deep in their own territory in a fourth-and-12 situation midway through the fourth quarter. But ASU's drive was sustained, however, when the Cougars roughed Sun Devil punter Lance Anderson to give ASU a first down at the 27. Two plays later ASU quarterback Jake Plummer's 47-yard bomb to Keith Poole was ruled complete, although television replays showed the ball may have been trapped.
The roughing the kicker penalty and the bomb pass were the two biggest plays in ASU's 12-play, 77-yard drive setting up the winning field goal.
BYU led 21-13 entering the final quarter and had a big defensive series early and plenty of momentum. But the momentum changed quickly.
The Cougar defense held on a goal-line stand, as Sun Devil running back Terry Battle was held for no gain on fourth-and-goal from the one early in the final quarter.
But Sarkisian had the ball ripped away from him on a quarterback sneak by ASU defensive lineman Shawn Swayda on the ensuing play, giving the Sun Devils the ball back at the BYU one. Ryan Wood dove in to cut the gap to 21-19 with 13:25 to play, but a potential game-tying two-point conversion pass was knocked down by safety Eddie Sampson to preserve the Cougar lead - for the time being.
BYU, now 2-3 on the year, led 14-13 at the half. The Cougars added to their lead with the only points in the third quarter on a 23-yard TD strike from Sarkisian to Mike Johnston.
Both teams scored a pair of touchdowns in the first half, but the Sun Devils were unsuccessful on a two-point attempt after their second score to allow the Cougs to have the one-point lead at intermission.
BYU's defense forced ASU to punt on its first drive and quickly capitalized by going 80 yards on three plays.
The Cougars, who entered the game dead last in the NCAA in rushing with a 30-yard per game average, had more than that on their first run. Mark Atuaia went 51-yards down the right sideline for the game's first score with 11:22 to play in the opening quarter. Bill Hansen's extra point put the Cougars ahead 7-0. It was the first time in five games this year BYU had scored on their first offensive series.
Arizona State responded with a 10-play, 71-yard drive culminating with a two-yard TD pass from Jake Plummer to Lenzie Jackson to knot the game, 7-7, with 6:05 to play in the first quarter.
After an Atuaia fumble, the Sun Devils quickly took the lead on a 23-yard drive. Plummer his tight end Steve Bush with a one-yard pass for the score with 2:09 to play in the opening quarter. The Sun Devils lined up as if they would kick the extra point, but instead went for two-points on a quick snap that came up short, so the score remained 13-7.
BYU regained the lead on a seven-yard scoring strike from Steve Sarkisian to Chad Lewis and an extra point kick by Hansen with 11:15 to play in the half.
The Cougars would have had an even larger halftime lead had it not been for several costly penalties. BYU was flagged six times for 60 yards. A 53-yard TD pass from Sarkisian to Mike Johnston was nullified by an illegal procedure call midway through the second quarter.
For the game the Cougars had 10 penalties for 109 yards.
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GAME NOTES: The Cougs suffered several first-half injuries. Defensive end Ed Kehl sprained his ankle and Dermmell Reid suffered a concussion. Both left the game an didn't return. Linebacker Stan Raass left the game with a sprained ankle, but was able to come back and play . . . ASU averaged 42,172 fans for its first three home games, but Saturday night's crowd was 51,035. Many of the extra fans were BYU boosters. . . As BYU was checking out of its hotel Saturday afternoon, Cougar coaches ran into ex-Coug Trevor Matich as he was checking in. Matich and his Washington Redskin teammates were staying Saturday night in the same rooms the Cougars stayed in Friday.