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Bronco-Rocky-Crowton link nothing new

For one thing, all 3 were born in Utah County

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BYU tight end Phillip Niu scores a touchdown on his first reception of the season Saturday vs. New Mexico.

BYU tight end Phillip Niu scores a touchdown on his first reception of the season Saturday vs. New Mexico.

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

ALBUQUERQUE — It's not quite the party game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," but call it something similar — like "Three Football Degrees of Gary Crowton, Bronco Mendenhall and Rocky Long."

Prior to Saturday night's Cougar-Lobo game, much was made of Crowton's luring of defensive coordinator Mendenhall to BYU from Long's New Mexico staff, but the three go back further — much further.

Crowton coached at Snow College from 1983 to 1986, the first year as the defensive backs coach and the final three as offensive coordinator. Mendenhall played cornerback at Snow College during 1985 and 1986 — when the two first became acquainted.

Mendenhall played his final two seasons at Oregon State as a defensive back and linebacker in 1987 and 1988 and was a graduate assistant at OSU in 1990. The following year, he departed to become a defensive coach at Snow, the same time Long was arriving at OSU to be defensive coordinator.

Long and Mendenhall first linked up on the same Oregon State staff in 1995, Long's last as defensive coordinator (before leaving for UCLA for two years) and Mendenhall's first of two seasons, first as defensive line coach and then defensive coordinator after Long left.

In 1997, in his second season as head coach at Louisiana Tech, Crowton hired Mendenhall as his defensive coordinator, asking for a two-year commitment. But the following season, both agreed that Mendenhall would be making a step up to join Long - the new coach at New Mexico — as the Lobos' defensive coordinator.

Long and Mendenhall coached at UNM for five years, while Crowton went from Louisiana Tech to the NFL's Chicago Bears and eventually to BYU as head coach in 2001.

STATS, MAN: Phillip Niu's touchdown reception in the first half was the backup tight end's first college reception. He joins Daniel Coats as the two Cougars this season to have scored on their first career catch.

Also, Reynaldo Brathwaite's 89-yard run in the first quarter tied for the second-longest run in Mountain West Conference history.

MORE 'DEGREES': The ties that bind Crowton, Long and Mendenhall actually go back to their roots. All three are natives of Utah County — Crowton of Orem, Mendenhall of Alpine and Long of Provo.

Long was born in Provo in 1950, while his father, Rod, was an end on the BYU football team.

And Long's memories of BYU are more than just from baby photos. The former New Mexico quarterback got his first collegiate start when the Lobos played BYU in October 1969. He was the starting quarterback the last time UNM beat BYU in back-to-back seasons — 51-8 in Albuquerque in 1970 and 14-0 in Provo the next year.

That 1971 game was the last time the Lobos had defeated the Cougars in Provo — until last year's 20-16 victory by the Long-coached UNM squad.

WHERE'S WALT-O: Remember Walt Williams, the Miami native and Eastern Arizona Community College defensive back who was to come in as a JC transfer for the Cougars this season?

Williams ended up unable to qualify academically to play Division I ball and either had to drop down a level or sit out a season. Williams opted to play and now is a standout cornerback at Fayetteville State in North Carolina.

REMEMBER WHEN: BYU was undefeated and ranked No. 17 the last time the Cougars visited Albuquerque—- that was two years ago, and the game that BYU running back Luke Staley was held out of because of questions regarding his academic eligibility.

The Cougars won 24-20 on Brandon Doman's game-winning 15-yard TD toss to Andrew Ord with 3:36 to play. The scoring drive was aided by Doman's scramble on an option keeper on fourth-and-11 at the Lobo 29.

E-mail: taylor@desnews.com