PROVO, Utah — After all the years of being knocked out early by Brigham Young's powerful offense, San Diego State's defense finally fought back Saturday afternoon. Now, if only the Aztec offense could have delivered a little punch . . .
But that wasn't to be and SDSU was shut out for the first time in 39 games as BYU won, 28-0, before 65,407 fans in Cougar Stadium. If there was any consolation for the Aztecs, it was in holding BYU scoreless on six straight possessions at one point.
"This sure beats 58-8," Aztec Coach Doug Scovil said. "Our players have nothing to be ashamed of. This was probably the best game we've played against BYU."
Scovil still remembers that day in 1982 when BYU beat the Aztecs by 50 points. Though SDSU has yet to defeat BYU in eight Western Athletic Conference games, at least the Aztecs are becoming more competitive.
In Scovil's first four years at SDSU, his teams were outscored by BYU, 166-30. The cummulative score in seven previous years of WAC play had been 285-58. Scovil said his team is three or four quality linemen away from being BYU's equal.
"We've made progress on them," said Jack Eaton, a fifth-year Aztec linebacker. "We've played them tougher every year. You just have to put points on the board to win."
BYU put 14 points on the board on its first two possessions, but the Cougars did not score again until 1:46 remained in the third quarter. BYU's final touchdown came with 10:25 to play.
SDSU had its lone opportunity to take the lead slip away on the game's first possession after the Aztecs drove from their 20 to a third-and-two at the BYU 43.
On third down, Vince Warren was open over the middle at the BYU 26, but the wide receiver slipped in his attempt to catch a Todd Santos pass.
"That one was behind me," Warren said. "I was trying to stop, but the grass was wet. It was a big, little slip. If that ball would've been in front of me, it would've been a touchdown."
And so the game went for the Aztecs, just as it always does against BYU. SDSU has scored seven touchdowns in its last nine games with BYU.
The Cougars are 2-0 in the Western Athletic Conference and 5-1 overall. SDSU is 1-1 and 3-2.
According to BYU linebacker Leon White, SDSU did "surprise" the Cougars, somewhat. White said BYU expected SDSU to run the ball often, but the Aztecs passed on 44 of 59 plays from scrimmage.
Santos completed 20 of 37 passes for 176 yards with 1 interception. Jim Plum, who played much of the fourth quarter, was 5 of 7 for 85 yards with 1 interception. BYU's Robbie Bosco was 25 of 37 for 257 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
The first time pass-happy BYU had the ball, it surprised virtually everybody by running on its first seven plays. The Cougars gained 67 yards, to the Aztec 13, then Bosco's first pass went for a touchdown to tight end Trevor Molini.
"We had expected them to try to run a little," Eaton said. "If you're getting seven yards a pop, you might as well stick with it."
BYU changed strategy, however, on its next possession. After Vai Sikahema returned a punt 26 yards to the SDSU 46, Bosco passed on three successive plays to get a first down at the 30.
Eight plays later, BYU took a 14-0 lead as Bosco scrambled in from the 1 on an apparent pass play. Since four minutes were still left in the first quarter, it looked like another long day in Provo for the Aztecs.
However, SDSU's defense began to put up a fight.
The next time BYU had the ball, Steve Lauter's interception stopped the Cougars. On possession No. 4, BYU was forced to punt.
Linebacker Todd Richards recorded the play of the day for SDSU after BYU had regained possession. Richards made an interception at the BYU 21 by diving in front of halfback Kelly Smith.
However, the Aztecs couldn't take advantage. On the very next play, Santos had his pass tipped in the air by White, who intercepted at the 24.
White, a graduate of La Mesa's Helix High, said he was not blocked on the play.
"When I hit the ball, I didn't expect it to come back down to me," White said. "It was a surprise to me, too."
Big plays were to be the norm for BYU wide receiver Mark Bellini during a third-quarter drive that started at the Cougar 7.
After a holding penalty moved BYU back to the 3, Bellini caught a 25-yard pass from Bosco on second down. Then, on a third-and-20 at the BYU 33, Bellini again beat Lauter for a 22-yard reception.
"Both plays were the same," Bellini said. "I went straight, making the guy think it was a streak, then I tried to turn him. The guy bit on it both times."
The two plays seemed to take the bite out of SDSU's defense. After the second Bellini reception, Tom Tuipulotu ran 45 yards for a touchdown, giving BYU a 21-0 lead.
BYU scored again on its next possession on an 82-yard drive that took just under six minutes to complete. Bosco threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Scott Norberg with 10:25 remaining.