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Punt block/TD feels great to the special teams

Air Force halfback Justin Handley is dragged down by BYU defender Markell Staffieri in the second half of the Cougars victory on Saturday.
Air Force halfback Justin Handley is dragged down by BYU defender Markell Staffieri in the second half of the Cougars victory on Saturday.
Bryan Oller, Associated Press

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Going into Saturday's game against Air Force, BYU special teams coach Paul Tidwell figured the Cougars could block a punt against the Falcons.

"We worked hard on that all week," Tidwell said, knowing New Mexico had blocked two punts against Air Force two weeks ago.

Then the Falcons came out with a different punt formation — one run by both BYU and UNLV. "I put in our scouting report how we lined up against UNLV just in case, because they had two weeks to prepare and they had some problems with their punting game. Sure enough, they came out and lined up in the spread punt formation."

As it turned out, BYU's special teams recorded one of the day's biggest plays as Dennis Pitta blocked a Donny Heaton punt deep in Air Force territory in the third quarter. Teammate Gary Lovely picked up the loose ball and rumbled eight yards for a touchdown, staking the Cougars to a 24-10 advantage. They went on to post a 41-24 win.

"I was at the right place at the right time," Lovely said. "It was a great feeling."

"Any big special teams plays carries a lot of momentum and turns the tide," Tidwell said. "A blocked punt is very demoralizing for one team and very uplifting for the other."

Lovely's TD was BYU's first blocked punt for a touchdown since Travis Hall accomplished the feat in 1992 against Utah.

"It was a pivotal play that gave us the momentum," said Pitta, who made a huge impact on the offense as well by hauling in two touchdown passes. The freshman tight end rotated in the lineup with Daniel Coats, who suffered an injured hand against Air Force, according to coach Gary Crowton.

The blocked punt wasn't the only big play involving special teams, however. Placekicker/punter Matt Payne booted a 53-yard field goal, tying his career long, and he also connected on his 64th consecutive extra point (dating back to 2002) to break the school record. With 11 points Saturday, Payne has racked up 294 career points, passing Luke Staley for second place on the school's all-time list.

"I'm sure going to miss that guy after the season," Tidwell said. "I've had him for a kicker for four years. He's an awesome kid. I'm just happy for him."

Payne also executed a fake punt that led to BYU's final touchdown in the fourth quarter. He took the snap and rumbled for 20 yards and a first down. "Matt saw that fake and did it on his own. It wasn't a called play," Tidwell said. "I've always told Matt that if you think it's there, to take it. And he did."