BYU players celebrate after a fourth quarter turnover during their 23-6… (Lenny Ignelzi / Associated…)
SAN DIEGO — The Poinsettia Bowl dragged into the fourth quarter, no touchdowns for either team, no excitement for the national television audience.
To that point, the star of the game was the punter for Brigham Young, Riley Stephenson. By the time the evening was done, Stephenson had forced San Diego State to start a drive inside its five-yard line four times.
The Aztecs started each drive by handing the ball to tailback Adam Muema. This time, after a San Diego State interception, the Aztecs started a drive on their three and tried the pass.
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BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy hit San Diego State quarterback Adam Dingwell in the end zone, forcing and then recovering a fumble for the game-winning touchdown in the Cougars' 23-6 victory.
Van Noy later intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown too, as the Cougars (8-5) scored 20 points in a little more than six minutes to secure the victory. The Aztecs (9-4) scored their fewest points in a bowl game since losing the 1948 Harbor Bowl to Hardin-Simmons, 53-0.
Dingwell had four of the Aztecs' five turnovers, all but one of which came in the fourth quarter.
The Aztecs led, 6-3, with the Cougars driving for what would have been a tying field goal early in the fourth quarter. San Diego State cornerback King Holder intercepted BYU quarterback James Lark at the one, and the Aztecs took over at the three.
Muema, who rushed for 255 yards in the Aztecs' regular-season finale and 103 in the Poinsettia Bowl, was the obvious call. So obvious, it turned out, that the Cougars crowded the line and dared San Diego State to pass.
"If they start to crowd the line of scrimmage, you've got to throw it and back 'em off," Aztecs Coach Rocky Long said.
The Cougars wanted to try something different too, with their third-ranked defense playing well but their team still trailing and time running short.
"We were going to need turnovers to win," BYU Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "It became apparent after three quarters went by that we needed to press the issue a little more."
So Dingwell dropped back to pass. Van Noy burst into the backfield, hit the quarterback, forced a fumble and fell on it for a touchdown.
On the Aztecs' next play from scrimmage, Dingwell fumbled the snap. On the Cougars' next play, Jamaal Williams ran 14 yards — the longest BYU run all night — for a touchdown and a 16-6 lead. The conversion was no good, but the Cougars had nonetheless scored 13 points in 17 seconds.
Van Noy was selected as the game's most valuable defensive player. BYU's Cody Hoffman, who caught 10 passes for 114 yards, was selected as the most valuable offensive player.
Said Long: "I thought the most valuable player was their punter."
So did the public-address announcer at Qualcomm Stadium, the Aztecs' home stadium. After Stephenson pinned the Aztecs inside their five for the fourth time, the announcer exclaimed, "He did it again!"