COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — For a half anyway, BYU looked like the BYU of old.

Playing in the daytime for the first time this season, the Cougars erupted for 38 second-half points en route to a 41-24 Mountain West Conference victory over Air Force on Saturday at Falcon Stadium.

It marked the most points BYU has scored all year (it had been averaging 20.3 points per game) and it was the first time the Cougars have recorded back-to-back wins in two years.

"That's what I came to BYU for, was that second half," said punter/placekicker Matt Payne. "I've been waiting for that to happen, and hopefully we can continue playing that way the rest of the season. If we can play like we did in that second half, we can have a good chance of having some big games."

Trailing 10-3 at halftime, the sluggish Cougars received a fiery halftime speech from coach Gary Crowton. His players responded.

"He just told us to get our butts in gear and get out there and play," Payne said. "We weren't playing to our potential in the first half. We needed a coach and we needed some players to step up in the locker room and get us fired up."

"The coaches said that if we played like we practiced, we'd kill these guys. That's what we did," said running back Curtis Brown, who rushed for more than 100 yards (128 yards on 22 carries) for the third consecutive game. "We just started playing like we practiced. Once we worried about execution, that's when everything took care of itself."

"He knows our potential as a football team," wide receiver Austin Collie said of Crowton. "He gets frustrated when we don't show it. He got a little riled up and put us in our place."

"We were all frustrated in the first half," Crowton said. "We felt like we were playing too nervous, too tight. The plays were there; the opportunities were there."

The Cougars wasted no time changing the complexion of the game and seizing the momentum.

On the second play from scrimmage in the second half, quarterback John Beck connected on a 70-yard touchdown pass to Todd Watkins to tie the game at 10. It was a play that was open in the first half and Crowton wanted to use it early in the second.

BYU scored again on its next drive as Beck hit tight end Dennis Pitta for an 11-yard TD pass to propel the Cougars to a 17-10 lead. Then BYU's special teams got into the act with a blocked punt by Pitta. The loose ball was scooped up and taken into the end zone by Gary Lovely to make it 24-10.

The Cougars extended their lead to 31-10 one play into the fourth quarter on a 14-yard Beck-to-Collie touchdown toss.

"They made plays and there were some times that we didn't make the plays," said Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry. "Basically, that was the difference of the game. The thing that disappointed me more than anything was that we had nine penalties. We were our own worst enemy."

During the week, Crowton fretted publicly about the Falcons having two weeks to prepare for his team and Air Force's affinity for trick plays. However, it was the Cougars who unveiled most of the trick plays, including a couple of flea-flickers and a fake punt.

In the first half, BYU surrendered two turnovers that led to an Air Force touchdown and field goal. The Cougars shrugged off those miscues to play a near-perfect second half.

And, for the first time all year, the BYU offense rolled.

"We've got the receivers and backs to do it," Collie said. "We've been waiting for a game like this to put up these kinds of numbers. We came out in the second half knowing that we had to make big plays and that's exactly what we did."

BYU improved to 4-4 overall and 3-1 in MWC play. Air Force dropped to 3-4 and 2-2. The Cougars will take the week off before facing San Diego State in Provo on Nov. 6.


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com