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.