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Yet another setback for hard-luck Heaney

PROVO — For BYU cornerback Brandon Heaney, it was another injury, another cruel twist of fate.

The 5-foot-11 senior, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgeries the past two years and received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA so he could play in 2004, suffered one more medical setback Saturday during the Cougars' 24-13 victory over Wyoming.

Early in the first quarter, Heaney landed hard on the turf while defending a deep pass in the end zone and broke his right arm.

"He told the trainer without screaming and yelling, 'My arm snapped in two,' " coach Gary Crowton said Monday. "He has a tremendous pain threshold. He's a tough kid."

Sunday, Heaney had surgery. "They put in some plates and glued him back together, so to speak," said running backs coach Lance Reynolds.

Heaney will be sidelined for six weeks, meaning the only way he will suit up for the Cougars again is if they qualify for a bowl game. To do that, BYU must win three of its final four games.

This week, the Cougars visit Air Force — the school Heaney transferred from in 2000.

While his absence will be felt by the BYU defense and the entire program, Heaney will continue to have a crucial role with the team, Crowton said.

"We're going to miss Brandon Heaney. I think he'll be with us as a leader because he is a leader. He's shown a lot of strength. We're going to rely on his leadership to help us because physically he can't do anything for six weeks. He's been an inspiration to his whole team and the coaching staff."

Heaney played most of the 2002 campaign with his right shoulder popping out during games. He routinely went to the sideline, popped the shoulder back in and returned to action. The next fall, Heaney hurt his left shoulder in the season-opener against Georgia Tech and, after surgery, was sidelined for the year.

This season, Heaney had recorded an interception, two fumble recoveries and a team-high eight pass breakups.

"Whenever you lose a good player for whatever reason, it hurts you," Reynolds said. "He's been a very effective part of our defense. There's not a lot of substitution for experience. The lack and loss of experience that we have in him, it hurts us. But we're hoping we can get some guys who can step up and fill that void."

Senior Micah Alba and redshirt freshman Kayle Buchanon are expected to help replace Heaney's spot in the lineup.

Without Heaney, the Cougar secondary performed well against Wyoming, picking off four Corey Bramlet passes. The first came midway through the first quarter, when safety Spencer White returned an interception 46 yards. "That really changed the momentum of the game," Crowton said.

Linebacker Brady Poppinga was impressed with the secondary. "They did a great job. They anticipated the ball really well," he said. "One guy you have to give a special call-out to is (safety) Jon Burbidge. That guy hurt himself really seriously (an elbow injury against UNLV). Ninety-nine out of a hundred guys would have been out for 6-8 weeks. That guy came immediately the next Monday, and I didn't feel the difference. I thought maybe he'd play at 80 percent or so. But that guy played as if he wasn't hurt."

ADVANTAGE, AIR FORCE: The Falcons haven't played since a 28-23 win over New Mexico on Oct. 9 in Colorado Springs. Having two weeks off benefits Air Force in a big way, Crowton said.

"It's a huge advantage for them. It really is. They're healthier. They have two weeks to study and review their game plan. They watched the Wyoming game, and they can readjust their plan."

PRAISE FOR THE TEAM UP NORTH: When asked about the conference race, which features No. 9 Utah at the top of the league standings, Crowton replied, "Utah's playing great football right now, and they represent our conference very well on the national level. I voted for them up there (in the coach's poll). I think I had them fifth or something."

AFTERNOON START: After playing at 8 p.m. the past six weeks, BYU will finally play an afternoon game (1 p.m.) Saturday against Air Force. The earliest the Cougars have played this season was a 7:15 contest in the season-opener against Notre Dame. "It's been a long time since we had a day game," Crowton said. "It's nice to have a day game because when you travel you're not getting home at 4 o'clock in the morning. Even our night games at home, I've been getting back at 2, 2:30 in the morning. It is nice to play at one o'clock."