The BYU football team defeated the Wyoming Cowboys 24-21 in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on Wednesday night.
It was head coach Kalani Sitake’s first bowl victory.
Senior running back Jamaal Williams led the way for the Cougars in his final game, rushing for 210 yards and a touchdown.
The heavy rain was a factor all night, but perhaps it was most relevant on a Wyoming punt with about 40 seconds left. The Cowboys couldn’t corral the snap and BYU gained possession on the 3-yard line.
Tanner Mangum opened the scoring on the night. With 38 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Mangum dropped back to pass. No one was open, so the sophomore signal caller scrambled for a 3-yard touchdown. The PAT was good and the Cougars took a 7-0 lead.
The Cougars added a field goal just before the half and took a 10-0 lead into the locker room.
In the third quarter the Cowboys finally got something going offensively. Wyoming ripped off a 16-play, 8:22 drive that went 60 yards, with Brian Hill cutting BYU’s lead to 10-7.
The Cougars answered with 2:42 remaining in the third. Mangum hit Nick Kurtz with a 39-yard pass to get into the red zone. Then Mangum got lucky. He dropped back and floated a pass towards the middle of the end zone. Tight end Tanner Balderee tipped the pass, which then ricocheted off two Wyoming defenders before settling back into Balderee’s arms for the touchdown. The Cougars extended their lead to 17-7.
Williams, sprung by a block by Jonah Trinnaman, broke off a 36-yard touchdown run with 14:07 remaining in the fourth quarter. BYU had seemingly put the Cowboys away and the score was 24-7.
But Wyoming wasn’t going to go away. The Cowboys responded with a 14-play, 76-yard drive and cut BYU’s lead to 24-14.
The Cougars couldn’t counter on their next possession and punted back to Wyoming.
Wyoming made them pay. The Cowboys marched down the field and Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen connected with Tanner Gentry for a 23-yard score. The Cougars’ lead was cut to just three points, 24-21.
BYU football had relied on its defense all season long.
In crunch time at the Poinsettia Bowl, things were no different.
Wyoming had just under two minutes to tie or win the game, but senior Kai Nacua sealed a BYU victory with an interception with just over a minute remaining. Nacua had a relatively quiet night until his huge play, but it was a fitting ending. Nacua was tied for No. 6 in the nation in interceptions and he made his presence felt in the biggest moment of the night.
Mangum – who made his first start of 2016 – completed 8-of-15 passes for just 96 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Kurtz was BYU’s leading receiver (three receptions for 59 yards) and senior captain Harvey Langi led the defense with 16 tackles.
Safety Micah Hannemann was ejected for targeting in the game. He will miss the first half of the Cougars’ 2017 opener against Portland State on Aug. 26.