The suspense in Cougar Stadium could be cut with a knife. Just 22 seconds remained and Rice kicker Scott Grimes was lining up for a 44-yard field goal attempt.
As the sell-out crowd held its collective breath, BYU called timeout to make Grimes think about the daunting task ahead of him - to ice him, if you will. Then it was time to face the music.The snap was perfect, the hold true, but Grimes' kick sailed wide.
Cougar Stadium erupted. Players leapt for joy, reacting as if they'd just won the lottery.
BYU had held on for a WAC victory over the upstart Owls, 49-0. It was the Cougars' first shutout since 1992 against New Mexico.
OK, so the final field goal attempt had no bearing on the outcome of the lopsided game. Still, saving the shutout for the Cougar defense was reason to rejoice for the players and fans.
"We wanted to keep that doughnut on the scoreboard to send a message and so maybe we could get some more respect," said Cougar safety Eddie Sampson, one of the graduating seniorsplaying his last collegiate home game.
The Cougar defense certainly deserved respect Saturday. Rice, now 5-4 overall and 4-2 in the WAC, had been dominant on the ground the previous four weeks, averaging 458 yards rushing. The Owls were fresh off a 51-point outing against conference favorite Utah.
But BYU's defense ate 'em up.
"We decided we were going to eat Rice," said defensive end Daren Yancey. "Seventy percent of the world eats rice, so we decided we would too."
The Owls finished with only 119 yards of total offense. They gained zero, zip, nada in the air against the Cougars. Rice completed none of its five attempts - at least none to one of its own. The Owls did have a pass picked off by BYU's Brad Martin. They also coughed up a pair of fumbles.
"It was just one of those days when everything went right for us and nothing went right for them," said Cougar linebacker Shay Muirbrook, who caused a fumble, recovered a fumble and made five tackles.
The BYU sports information staff was searching for the last time a Cougar opponent had failed to complete a single pass. They couldn't find one. The closest they came was in 1956 when New Mexico gained only two yards passing against the Y.
"BYU did a great job on defense and we needed to do a couple of things we just didn't do," said Rice coach Ken Hatfield.
The 12th-ranked Cougars have now won eight straight and are 10-1 overall and 6-0 in the WAC. Since a couple of teams ahead of them in the polls lost Saturday, BYU will likely be in the nation's top 10 when the new rankings are released today.
Rice can partially thank Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN for riling up the Cougs. Herbstreit, at halftime of the San Diego State-Wyoming game Thursday night, said his "upset special" this week was Rice over BYU.
"Nobody wanted to be the upset of the week," said Yancey with a smile.
Quarterback Steve Sarkisian, meanwhile, had perhaps the least demanding game of his BYU career. He threw only 13 passes, as the Cougars relied heavily on the running game. The Cougars rushed for 323 yards on 62 carries with freshman Ronney Jenkins leading the way with 109 yards on 12 attempts. Jenkins became the first freshman to rush for 100 yards in a game since Jamal Willis in 1991.
"Our game plan was to run the ball to take time off the clock and try to give our defense some rest," said Jenkins.
Sarkisian made the most of the relatively few passing attempts he had. He completed 10 of 13 for 206 yards and a pair of scores with one interception. Sarkisian's passing efficiency rating is now 181.35, which, if it holds up for the final two games of the regular season, would be an NCAA record. The current NCAA season record is 176.9 by Jim McMahon.
With Rice on a winning streak and still battling for a possible WAC Mountain Division title, many of the 65,732 fans in attendance expected a close game. So did Cougar coach LaVell Edwards.
"Obviously, this game turned out differently than we anticipated it would," said Edwards.
The first quarter, however, was close. BYU moved the ball well, but had no points to show for it. Three first-quarter drives by the Cougars made it to the red zone, but they came away empty due to a fumble, an interception and a missed field goal.
BYU broke the scoreless tie early in the second quarter, however. Sarkisian hit running back Dustin Johnson over the middle. When Rice defender Aaron Stanley fell down, Johnson was off to the races for an 87-yard TD catch-and-run with 10:23 to play in the half.
After a Rice fumble, Sarkisian hit K.O. Kealaluhi on a five-yard scoring strike. Ethan Pochman's extra point was good to give the Cougs a quick 14-0 lead with nine minutes remaining in the half. They added a third score with just 20 seconds left in the second quarter when Brian McKenzie ran the ball in from three yards out to cap off an 80-yard drive.
James Dye, the Cougars' electrifying return man the past two years, opened the scoring in the second half with a 67-yard punt return early in the third quarter. McKenzie added a 37-yard TD run and Atuaia had a one-yard score to give the Cougars a 42-0 lead by the end of the third.
Back-up QB Paul Shoemaker, on fourth-and-goal from the four, hit seldom used senior receiver Tyler Bolli in the end zone for the game's final TD with just under nine minutes remaining.
The only suspense left was to see if the shutout could remain intact.
The Cougars will travel to Hawaii next week before completing the regular season in Salt Lake against Utah Nov. 23.
GAMES NOTES: It was the final home game for 25 Cougar seniors, who were each awarded the traditional Y. blankets afterward . . . . BYU has now won 19 consecutive games against teams from Texas in Cougar Stadium . . . Pochman has made 49 consecutive extra points, an on-going Cougar record. He missed his only field goal attempt, a 34-yarder, however . . . . Dye has returned two punts and a kickoff for touchdowns this season. He has four punt return TDs for his career, which ties a school record.