ALBUQUERQUE — Like he has throughout this season and throughout his career, BYU senior safety Andrew Rich turned in a bevy of big defensive plays in the Cougars' 52-24 victory over UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl Saturday.
Rich recorded five solo tackles, two tackles-for-loss, a sack and two interceptions (returned for a combined 43 yards) and a pass breakup. It was a fitting final game for Rich in a Cougar uniform.
That performance prompted coach Bronco Mendenhall to heap lavish praise on Rich.
"Until Andrew Rich, the best other safeties I ever coached were Brian Urlacher and Aaron Francisco," the coach said. "Andrew Rich is in that same trio now. Each have unique characteristics, but no one is tougher than Andrew, there's no one that is more committed. He just is an amazing leader and he cares so much. I still couldn't get him to intercept one and get it to the end zone, but it just seemed like any big play that has to be made, there he is."
Rich finished his career with five interceptions in his last four games. Saturday's game was an emotional one for Rich and the other 12 seniors on the roster.
"On the bus ride over here, all of us seniors got pretty emotional, knowing it was the last time we'd go to battle together," he said. "To be able to finish with a win was big for us as seniors to be able reminisce one day and tell stories, that probably won't be true, to our kids. But what will be true is that we won the game. … I couldn't be more happy to be a BYU Cougar. And I will continue to be until I die."
Rich arrived in Provo as a walk-on, turning down scholarship offers to Boise State and Cal. Over time, Mendenhall learned what kind of player he had in Rich.
"To show you how smart I am, I rejected him twice — once out of high school and once out of junior college because I didn't think he was fast enough or big enough," the coach said. "What I couldn't see, what I didn't know about him, was who he is inside."
ALL-TIME SCORING LEADER: With nine points on six PATs and a 38-yard field goal against UTEP, senior placekicker Mitch Payne ended his career with 334 points, eclipsing the mark for all-time career points previously held by Owen Pochman who amassed 333 points.
BOWL RECORDS: BYU rushed 50 times for 219 yards, which were both bowl records for the Cougars. BYU set school records for most points scored in a bowl game (52); PATs made, by Payne; and best completion percentage (73.5 percent) by quarterback Jake Heaps.
The Cougars also rewrote many of the New Mexico bowl records including most points, largest margin of victory (28), most points in a half (31), touchdowns (6) and fewest rushing yards allowed (minus-12).
FLAG BEARERS: Former BYU running back and kick returner Stacy Corley (1987-1990), a native of Grants, N.M., carried out the alumni flag Saturday. Carrying the team flag was senior linebacker AJ Van Valkenburg.
WR commits: Even before playing in the New Mexico Bowl, BYU won — a recruiting battle.
Wide receiver Josh Weeks, a 6-foot-4, 190-pounder from Show Low, Ariz., committed to Mendenhall Friday night after the team's fireside at an LDS stake center in Albuquerque, according to Totalbluesports.com.
Weeks, who led Show Low High to a 3A state championship, caught 73 passes for 1,561 yards and 20 touchdowns. Weeks is expected to serve a mission before enrolling.
Meanwhile, USC senior defensive tackle Hebron Fangupo is transferring to BYU.
Trojan coach Lane Kiffin called it a "family decision" for Fangupo, who will walk-on at BYU. Fangupo is 25 years old and is recently married.