SAN DIEGO – On a rare wet and rainy night at Qualcomm Stadium, BYU capped off its 2016 season with a wild 24-21 win over Wyoming in the 2016 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on Wednesday.
BYU (9-4) led 24-7 in the fourth quarter, but a furious Cowboy (8-6) comeback made it a thriller in the final minutes. Wyoming cut the advantage to 24-21 and had the ball at the Cougar 32-yard line with 1:22 to play before senior Kai Nacua picked off a pass heading near the end zone to end the final threat of a comeback.
"We were hoping one of those guys would make a play, and Kai has done that throughout his career," BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said. "To compete in the Poinsettia Bowl is an accomplishment in itself, and the win is for the players and the fans... It was an entertaining game and our guys fought to the end. These guys have played every down their hardest and I can't ask for anything more as a coach."
The win was BYU’s first bowl win since its last trip to the Poinsettia Bowl in 2012 when the Cougars defeated San Diego State 23-6.
Senior running back Jamaal Williams put on a show in his final game at BYU, running for 210 yards and one touchdown on 26 carries. He finished his career with the most rushing yards in school history with 3,901 and the most games of 100 rushing yards or more with 16.
Nacua’s interception was his sixth of the year and 14th of his career. Dayan Lake also had a takeaway, giving BYU 21 interceptions in 2016, tied for No. 2 nationally after the game. Harvey Langi led the team with 16 tackles, a career high, while Butch Pau’u and Fred Warner had 11 and 10 tackles, respectively.
Wyoming’s punter fumbled the snap near the end of the first quarter at the Cowboy 3-yard line. Quarterback Tanner Mangum scrambled and punched it in for a rushing score to put BYU up 7-0 with 38 seconds to play after a slow and soggy first quarter.
Mangum threw an interception on the next Cougar possession and Wyoming ran it back to the BYU 39-yard line. The Cougar defense forced a field goal attempt and a fake was snuffed out as Langi batted down a pass attempt. BYU took over at its own 25-yard line midway through the second frame.
BYU was able to get three points on the next possession at the 3:08 mark in the second quarter with a 27-yard field goal from Rhett Almond. The Cougars took a 10-0 lead into halftime.
Out of the break, Wyoming went 60 yards on its first drive, capped by a 4-yard touchdown run to cut BYU’s lead to 10-7 after a drive over eight minutes long.
BYU answered in its first possession of the half. Mangum completed 4 of 5 passes on the drive, capped off with a completion on a desperation throw on to the end zone that bounced off of multiple players’ hands before falling into Tanner Balderree’s arms for a 5-yard touchdown. Nick Kurtz had a 39-yard reception to set up the score. With 2:42 left in the third quarter, BYU had a 17-7 lead.
On the first play following a targeting call that ejected defensive back Micah Hannemann near the end of the third quarter, Lake stepped in front of a pass and intercepted it for his third pick of the year, returning it 14 yards to the BYU 45-yard line. The Cougars cashed in five plays later when a Jonah Trinnaman block helped spring Williams for a 36-yard touchdown scamper to make it 24-7 less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
The back and forth scoring continued when Wyoming made it 24-14 after a 9-yard touchdown pass with 7:35 left in the game.
The Cowboys continued to fight with another touchdown from Wyoming wide receiver Tanner Gentry (his second of the game) with 2:11 to go to make things interesting at 24-21.
BYU failed to convert on the next drive and had to punt it back to Wyoming with 1:52 remaining. The Cowboys took over at midfield.
After getting to the 32-yard line, Wyoming’s quarterback tried to extend the play and threw across his body for the end zone, but Nacua jumped in front and picked it off to seal BYU’s victory.
BYU finishes the season 9-4 with a bowl victory in head coach Kalani Sitake’s first season at the helm.
PROVO, Utah – Bowl game practice sessions began Thursday for BYU football as it prepares to face the Wyoming Cowboys in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 21 at 6 p.m. PST, on ESPN.
BYUtv will provide pregame and postgame coverage of the game, beginning with Countdown to Kickoff starting at 5 p.m. PST. A live postgame show on BYUtv continues coverage after the game, providing fans access to interviews, highlights and analysis.
Live radio coverage from Qualcomm Stadium will be on the Cougar IMG Sports Network with Greg Wrubell, which can also be found on Sirius XM 143, 1160 AM, 102.7 FM and BYUcougars.com. IMG’s radio coverage will begin at 4 p.m. PST and continue with an extended postgame show following the game.
BYU (8-4) vs. Wyoming (8-5)
Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016
Kickoff: 6 p.m. PST
Qualcomm Stadium (70,561)
POINSETTIA BOWL HISTORY. BYU is playing in the Poinsettia Bowl for the second time. The first was a 23-6 win over San Diego State in 2012. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy scored two defensive touchdowns to lead the Cougars.
RIVALRY RENEWED. In one of BYU's oldest matchups, the Cougars and Cowboys are reuniting for the 78th time in the history of the series, dating back to 1922. BYU has won seven in a row against Wyoming. One of the most classic games was the 1996 Western Athletic Conference Championship when the Cougars edged the Cowboys 28-25 in overtime, propelling BYU to the Cotton Bowl where they finished the season with an NCAA record 14 wins and No. 5 ranking.
NO STRANGER TO SAN DIEGO POSTSEASON. In addition to one Poinsettia Bowl trip, BYU went to San Diego's other bowl game, the Holiday Bowl, 11 times, more than any other school. Among the great Holiday Bowl history is BYU's 1980 game, nicknamed the "Miracle Bowl," where BYU was down 20 points to SMU with four minutes to go and rallied behind quarterback Jim McMahon for 21 points to beat the Mustangs 46-45.
BOWL GAMES. BYU is going bowling for the 12th consecutive season, one of just eight teams to have an active streak of 12 bowl games or more (along with Virginia Tech, Georgia, Oklahoma, LSU, Boise State, Wisconsin and Clemson). Overall, BYU is making its 35th bowl appearance.
FIRST-YEAR FINISH. Kalani Sitake finished the regular season 8-4, one of just six coaches in their first full year as an FBS head coach in 2016 to finish with a winning record. The others include Clay Helton (USC), Jason Candle (Toledo), Kirby Smart (Georgia), Tracy Claeys (Minnesota) and Mike Norvell (Memphis).
COMING IN HOT. BYU has won seven of its last eight games. The Cougar defense ranked No. 1 nationally in rush defense for the month of November, No. 3 in total defense and No. 3 in scoring defense. BYU gave up just 29 total points in the last four games combined while the offense averaged 34.0 points per game.
Head coach Kalani Sitake | Video
We had a good practice, a good lift today. We’re excited to know our opponent and scout them a little bit. We’re excited to go against Wyoming. They’re a really good opponent, well-coached. I follow coach Bohl and the things he’s done, not only at Wyoming but at North Dakota State. I’ve been impressed with their team. They have a really good quarterback. The running backs are talented as well. They have big receivers, a big O-line and a solid defense, so we’re looking forward to the matchup and definitely looking forward to prepping for them and knowing our opponent. We’re excited for this game and for the holiday season as well.
What do you remember most from playing Wyoming as a player at BYU?
They’re tough. No matter who the coach was, there was a feeling, a toughness around the state and also that program. We’re expecting a tough, physical team to come in the San Diego area. I think it’s a good matchup and will test our guys.
Preparation model for this bowl game
I think all of it is a combination of where we see our team and the timing. I think because the game is on the 21st compared to a later date or even an earlier date with the Las Vegas Bowl in the past, we’re structuring that and the schedule around finals. I can’t say we’re copying anything from the past other than the format and structure. We’re building it around the timing of when the game is played.
Anticipate the offense changing much with Tanner Mangum?
Maybe. I think it’s going to be a little different because his skill set is different than Taysom’s. But we just want to get points on the board and march the ball down the field. That’s what we’re going to do. Tanner is capable of doing it and maybe in a different style than Taysom. If you saw what Tanner did in high school, he can run the ball too. We’ll see what happens.
Will you use as much practice time as possible before the game?
Yes, as much as we can. We’re using all the lifting time. I’ve put a huge emphasis on us getting in the weight room and lifting. That’s the type of culture we’re trying to set here—weight room comes first. Like I said, we got stronger during the season and not a lot of teams do that. That’s what we’re going to focus on. We’re going to take advantage of all the practice time and meeting time. Obviously, we want to have our guys to do well on finals and make sure they’re eligible and pass their classes, but for what we’re allotted, we’re utilizing everything we can.
Biggest challenge of preparing for a bowl game?
Balancing the schoolwork is a challenge. But also, we asked them to empty the tank in the last game. We need to recover a little bit, so we gave them some time off. Then we had to get back in the weight room and get to work again. It gives you time to get ready. For us, losing Taysom means we’re going to need all that time to get ready. It will be beneficial for our offense and also letting some guys heal up and get ready for the bowl game. We’re taking advantage of that time.
Senior RB Jamaal Williams | Video
On his health
I’m good, ready to go and ready to play in my last college football game. It’s great to be with my brothers and be able to play in California, close to home. I’ll have a lot of people coming. I’m going to do my best and hopefully come out with a W. I care a lot about this school and I care a lot about my brothers and everything. My health is number one. I’m feeling great. Number two, I want to make sure we win this game.
Last BYU game
Playing my last game reminds me of my first game in LaVell Edwards Stadium. It makes me think how much I’ve grown, how much experience I’ve gained. It’s just a great life I’ve been fortunate to live and still got more to go. I learned a lot. I met a lot of great people that are going to stick with me forever. Staff, trainers, faculty, employees and everything. I’m grateful to be here and have met a lot of people and know they want the best for me.
They’re good. I’m grateful to play somebody that’s been working hard. They’ve been playing great this season and they’ve got great players on their team. It’s going to be a great challenge for us to go out there and play our game and execute.
On Taysom Hill not playing
It’s sad and unfortunate that I can’t play with Taysom in our last game, but I know that he wants the best for us. He wants us to go out and play for him, to work hard like we usually do. We just want to make sure his last game comes out with a W.
Sophomore QB Tanner Mangum | Video
Preparing for the bowl game vs. last year
When it comes to a bowl game you just have to be patient, because you have a few weeks to prepare, you know who your opponent is and you just have to take it one day and one practice at a time. We’re excited. We took a week off last week and everyone was itching to get back to the practice field and start preparing for Wyoming. Guys are ready. We’re excited and ready to go. We look to finish the season strong. Now it’s just being able to prepare, get better, get the game plan right and the execution down so we can go to San Diego and play well.
Picking up where you left off?
I feel good. I feel confident. It’ll also be good to have a couple weeks of practice to get all the reps, be able to sharpen up and get polished before the game. I’m feeling strong, confident and healthy. Jamaal is healthy and a lot of our weapons are doing well. We’re excited to sharpen up and use these next two weeks to prepare and come out ready for the bowl game.
Better than last year?
I feel like I’m better. I’m 20 pounds heavier, stronger and a little faster than last year. Physically I feel good and being able to learn mentally this year has been huge, especially learning from coach (Ty) Detmer. I really like the offense we have. We have been able to implement some wrinkles, sets and plays for the new game. I like the game plan and what we have going. I’m looking forward to getting better and playing well in the bowl.
On Taysom not playing
It’s tough when that happens. It’s heartbreaking because he’s been through so much already and to go through another one hurts. No one wants to see him go through another surgery and rehab. It’s heartbreaking to see your friend go through that. Football is more than a game. It brings friendships and relationships.
Matchup with Wyoming
It’s fun to renew that competition. I’m excited to be able to play them. I have watched them a little bit. I met the running back at the Touchdown Club of Columbus when I went there last year for the (Freshman of the Year) award. It was cool meeting him and seeing him do well this year. Seeing them beat Boise State was awesome. I’ve had my eye on them a little bit so being able to play them is a cool opportunity. From watching film I’ve noticed they’re a good team with good players who play hard. We’re looking forward to the challenge and I’m excited for the opportunity to play.
Sophomore DL Corbin Kaufusi | Video
Teams focus and mentality for bowl game
We took some time off, but I wouldn’t really say it was time off. We’ve still been working out and lifting weights, but to get back into the game prep, mindset is a big deal for us right now. Today’s practice was huge for us.
Thoughts on Wyoming
We’re excited to play them. For me personally, it’s exciting because I remember when we were in the Mountain West Conference and we used to play Wyoming. It was a lot fun. They have passionate fans. I’m excited about that.
How the coaches prepares the team
They want to approach it like any other game and not hype it up too much so we don’t overthink things. We’ll learn more as the week goes on. The thing that stands out is they’ve given us a lot of freedom to work hard on our own. They give us time off to do our own thing and whatever we want. I know a lot of guys who use that time to work hard on their own. They work on those little extra things you missed throughout the season and it’s awesome to have that time to work on things ourselves.
Senior DL Sae Tautu | Video
They are hard-working guys, tough players. It will be a good team for us to play against. I know they’re hungry and ready for some recognition. They have a big bowl game year so we’re expecting them to come out and fight their hardest. We respect their running back and his stats, but we’re confident we can stop them. We’re going to go out and play like we have all season. The beauty of our defense right now is there are so many playmakers on the field that it’s hard for one guy to beat our defense.
Our coaches do a good job of scheming every team we play, whether we twist or move more or play straight up. It depends on the offensive scheme and what they’re doing and we play accordingly. I think all of our players at this point in the season have gotten good at everything they ask us to do and so we’ll just go out and play the plays they call.
Our coaches have done a good job of mapping out our practice schedule. We’ll practice every day until the bowl game. Spreading it out that much allows us to practice less during finals so we can concentrate and take our tests, but at the same time be prepared. It’s nice to have the time to get everyone healthy and playing well. It’s nice the game is after finals and not during.