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BYU offense roars to life

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BYU 38, Virginia 35 (OT)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — During its dramatic, 38-35 overtime victory over Virginia in Charlottesville on Saturday afternoon, the BYU football program proved a few points.

First was that it can score points (who saw that coming?) with an offense that was moribund for the first two quarters. It displayed a quarterback, sophomore Bret Engemann, who passed for 447 yards and two touchdowns. The Cougars also exhibited a high-quality running attack, even without Luke Staley, and a solid offensive line.

And LaVell Edwards showed he still has some magic left after 29 years of coaching.

Before the largest home crowd in school history (60,435) at Virginia's newly expanded stadium, BYU put on a vintage, come-from-behind show that probably made Jim McMahon and Ty Detmer proud. Add this one to the highlight reel of BYU's memorable all-time wins.

The Cougars (1-1) rallied from a 21-0 halftime deficit to snatch an improbable victory from the Cavaliers following Owen Pochman's 26-yard field goal in overtime. It was BYU's only lead of the game, and it came on the final play of the game. "That was the happiest kick I've had so far," Pochman said. "It was an amazing win for us."

From an entertainment standpoint, it's too bad this two-year, home-and-home series between BYU and Virginia (0-1) is over. In two games, including Virginia's 45-40 win in Provo last year, the Cougars and Cavaliers have combined to score 158 points.

"Just another ho-hum game," joked BYU athletics director Val Hale.

The game gave ABC's regional TV audience (to 15 percent of the nation's television sets) plenty of thrills. That is, once BYU's offense got cranked up in the third quarter. Just as last year, the Cougars spotted the Cavs three touchdowns before they showed up. But this year, BYU scored 38 second-half points.

While Virginia scored on three of its first four possessions in the first half, BYU scored on six of eight drives in the second half. The difference? "Finishing our drives was the big difference," Engemann said. "We were frustrated (at halftime), but we had complete confidence. We knew if we executed, they couldn't stop us."

Engemann said he took advantage of the cushion Virginia's defensive secondary gave BYU's receivers. "We just kept chipping away," he said. And, on occasion, he picked apart the Cavs' secondary with the deep ball, including a 70-yard completion to Jonathan Pittman, which set up a touchdown.

Junior running back Brian McDonald, playing for the injured Staley, gained 86 yards on 20 carries and scored three of the Cougars' five touchdowns. "We rode him at times, and he carried us," Engemann said.

In the first half, it looked as if the BYU offense couldn't get a whiff of the end zone. Defensively, BYU was making Virginia running backs Antwoine Womack and Arlen Harris look like the man they are replacing, All-American Thomas Jones. Womack and Harris finished with 160 and 80 yards, respectively.

"We were sluggish at first, and I don't know why," Edwards said. Perhaps it had to do with the team's back-to-back trips to the East Coast or the 86 percent humidity at kickoff.

Anyway, the Cougars looked like a completely different team in the third and fourth quarters. Especially BYU's offense, which amassed just 131 yards in the first half. To open the third period, Engemann marched the Cougars 80 yards in 2:34, capped by McDonald's 6-yard run.

"That first touchdown gave us a lot of confidence," Engemann said. "It was a testimony to us that if we executed, we could score."

And score they did. McDonald added two more touchdowns before Engemann connected with tight end Doug Jolley to cut the Virginia lead to 35-28.

BYU's defense rose to the occasion on the following series and likely saved the game for the Cougars. Virginia had the ball second-and-two from its own 49 yard line late in the fourth quarter. On third down, BYU blitzed and safety Jared Lee held Harris to no gain. On fourth down with 4:48 remaining in the game, instead of punting, the Cavs went for it. The Cougars blitzed again with the same result as linebacker Justin Ena stuffed Harris at the line of scrimmage.

"We figured they'd run at us," Edwards said. "We guessed right. It was a gutsy call to go for it, but I can understand why (Virginia coach George Welsh) did it. They were running the ball well on us."

Welsh likely will be second-guessed about the decision not to punt. "There is a strong argument for punting there," he said. "I put the defense in a bad position at the end by doing that. If we make it, we probably win, because the clock goes down at least another 2:30. But I probably shouldn't have done it. It was a mistake. We should have punted and put the ball in between the 5 and 10 and made them go 90 yards."

Instead, the Cougars went 49 yards, finishing with a 6-yard touchdown toss from Engemann to Margin Hooks. Suddenly, the score was knotted at 35.

On its ensuing possession, Virginia drove to the BYU 31 before David Greene missed a 48-yard field goal, sending the game into overtime.

A couple of key plays in overtime set up Pochman's winning kick. First, BYU won the toss after regulation ended and chose to go on defense first in the overtime period. The Cavs' drive from the 25 yard line ended when BYU safety Tyson Smith intercepted Virginia quarterback Dan Ellis.

On their second play from scrimmage, the Cougars' true freshman running back, Marcus Whalen, scampered 16 yards to the Cavalier 9 yard line. Edwards elected to try to end the game with a field goal. And Pochman made good, touching off a wild BYU celebration at midfield.

E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com