BYU played its best football game of the season but came up short in losing the Dec. 30 Thrifty Car Rental Holiday Bowl to Ohio State, 28-21.
The Cougars' sophomore quarterback John Walsh completed 25 of 44 passes for 389 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception, in earning co-Most Valuable Player honors.Walsh's heroics weren't quite enough to offset a 235-yard rushing effort by Buckeye tailback Raymont Harris, the other co-MVP. Harris' rushing total surpassed the previous Holiday Bowl record of 225, set by Craig James of SMU against BYU in the 1980 "Miracle Bowl."
As has often been the case in this bowl game, BYU was in the contest until the waning seconds. The Cougars had the ball inside the OSU 25-yard line twice in the final four minutes, but they were unable to score.
Despite the defeat, the Cougars were pleased that they were able to regain a measure of respect they felt they'd lost over the course of a 6-5 regular season.
"I think we quieted a few critics tonight," said BYU wide receiver Eric Drage.
"We went out there tonight and showed our stuff," said Cougar noseguard Lenny Gomes.
The vastly relieved Buckeyes, who came into the game as heavy favorites, agreed that BYU was better than its record.
"We played a great team who, despite their record, were really tough," said Harris.
Harris admitted that he was "terrified" that the Cougars would pull out a victory in the closing minutes, a feeling shared by OSU coach John Cooper, who had promised back in November that his team would win a bowl game.
BYU's final threat started with 43 seconds left, after the Cougar defense had forced the Buckeyes to punt. On first down, Walsh located Drage, who had been limited to two short catches, on a crossing pattern that went for 52 yards, to the OSU 6. Suddenly, it looked like Holiday Bowl 16 would be another BYU Magic Show.
On the next play, Walsh rifled a bullet over the middle to Bryce Doman, but an OSU defender deflected it. On second down, Walsh missed Drage. On third down, Walsh rolled right to avoid the rush and gunned to a wide-open Tim Nowatzke in the end zone, but Nowatzke dropped the ball. On fourth down, Walsh barely overthrew Drage in the left corner of the end zone.
"We played well except when we got down there at the goal line," Walsh said. "We just weren't able to put it in."
If there was something good to come out of the defeat, it was a strong showing by the BYU defense. Hampered by injuries all season and frequently maligned for giving up record yards and points, the defense made several crucial stops against the powerful Buckeyes.
"It's been a tough year," said BYU coach LaVell Edwards, "but to come back and play defensively like we did gives us something to look forward to."