Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall pumps his fist in celebration as he leaves the field after Saturday's victory over Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss. Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011. BYU won 14-13.

OXFORD, Miss. — How did a nail-bitter for the debut as an independent football team go over for BYU's top brass?

BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson will take it. And he liked the drama ESPN received in its debut as a partner with the Cougars in the 14-13 comeback victory Saturday in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

"We're excited, we thought it would be a good thing, this was a great game today," said Samuelson.

"While we were lucky, we also deserved to win the game today. These people at the University of Mississippi were gracious and we hope we can play them again, perhaps even bring them to Provo."

That will be a challenge as an independent. The BYU-Mississippi game here was brokered by ESPN after Boise State dropped Ole Miss for a chance to play Georgia. BYU has to have more home games against teams from the SEC, Big 12, ACC and other BCS conferences if independence works for fans in Provo.

Samuelson said ESPN ought to feel good about BYU's game and how many people tuned in. "It was good for all of us."

Indeed, BYU scored 14 unanswered points to defeat the Rebels and players say the drama of the victory welded a bond between the offense and defense in a way neither a loss nor comfortable victory could have.

"It was amazing," said sophomore tight end Austin Holt of the celebration behind closed doors. "In our locker room, coach Mendenhall shed a few tears, he was very proud of us.

"We are a good team, we care about each other on offense and defense," said Holt, who had 2 catches for 26 yards.

"We all have a lot more fight in us than people think, and it's on both sides of the ball, on offense and defense. We were down at halftime, down in the third quarter and we fought back to win. It showed we have some grit and some toughness and we don't quit and have a great desire to win.

"Last year we didn't have that, we kind of flip-flopped, but this team has some tenacity, we have something going for us."

Holt said BYU's only offensive drive in the second half showed the timing and confidence the Cougars need. "If we keep focusing and executing at a high level, we'll be OK, that's the way this whole season can work out."

Linebackers coach Paul Tidwell said Kyle Van Noy's heroic forced fumble for a touchdown came at the right time.

"We had to have it, it came at the right time. Kyle has proven to be a playmaker. It takes all 11 but Kyle has done a great job over the last two years. Our defense had to make some stops in this game and they did it."

Both Tidwell and offensive line coach Mark Weber said BYU's front on offense and defense held their own against the SEC foe.

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"We had the upper hand most all the time," said Weber.

"To keep them from having an offensive touchdown the whole game, twice when they had pretty good drives twice and ended up with just field goals, is huge," said Tidwell.

"To make stops? Well, that wins games. Our offense moved the ball up and down the field all game long but first games are not easy for the offense and it showed at times when we didn't score. They'll be better and will improve. What this game proved is the character of this team."