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Y. outlasts Irish

Cougars avoid collapse in fourth quarter, beat Notre Dame in opener

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PROVO — Matt Berry got to shake skeletons out of his haunted broom closet Saturday night in LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Berry almost lost his battle with this boogeyman, however, throwing a late-game interception that resulted in a 38-yard touchdown by Notre Dame's Preston Jackson that trimmed a 10-point BYU lead down to three.

But, whew, bats out of the belfry, the Cougars held on to defeat Notre Dame 20-17 and Berry, bless his heart, got to step on some Irish clover.

Berry got to finish what he failed to do in South Bend when a hand injury and misfiring offense chugged to a halt against the Fighting Irish in their hallowed football shrine last November.

Acting as backup in relief of injured starter John Beck, who got the Cougars going early, Berry tossed a finger-tip 42-yard bomb to freshman Austin Collie in the third quarter to help preserve an impressive Cougar upset of Notre Dame in the season-opener for both teams. The victory extended head coach Gary Crowton's season-opener win streak at BYU to 4-0.

Backing up Berry's act, the Cougars needed a total team effort against the favored Irish. They did it by delivering huge defensive stops and outstanding special teams gems, including a third-quarter running punt by senior all-America punter candidate Matt Payne that John Burbidge downed inside the 5.

X-rays of Beck's undisclosed injury proved negative. He suffered a slight shoulder separation and could have come back in the game. But doctors decided to protect it.

Just like a year ago, the Cougars needed two quarterbacks to get the job done.

Berry, on the other hand, can thank the Cougar defense at church this morning. Well, he can also thank juco star receiver Todd Watkins, who came back and caught a jump ball against two Irish defenders on a hanging chad of a Hail Mary third-down pass with 1:34 to play to ensure, preserve and seal the Cougar victory with the 37-yard play.

BYU's defense, led by senior linebacker Brady Poppinga, defensive end Manaia Brown and safety Burbidge, sacked Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn four times, forced a fumble and turned back two of three Fighting Irish fourth-down plays. Cougar defenders limited the Irish to zero yards on the ground through most of the fourth quarter.

The Cougars led 20-10 when Jackson stepped in front of Berry's sideline spiral for Notre Dame's final touchdown with just more than nine minutes to play. After failing to gain a first down, Payne stepped up and booted a 64-yard punt to pin Notre Dame inside their own 10 — 90-yards away from a win.

Berry finished with 187 yards passing on 15-of-23 completions. In what ebbed into a defensive wrestling match, the Cougars out-gained Notre Dame 285 to 276 yards. BYU's defense absorbed 47 Irish passes, allowing one long one for a score. Notre Dame, who ran over the Cougars a year ago in a win, gained just 11 yards on the ground.

Beck (7-of-10 for 167 yards) led the Cougars on a 75-yard scoring drive on BYU's first possession, setting up a 5-yard Fahu Tahi touchdown run with a 50-yard bomb to Watkins.

The Cougars made it 10-0 in the first quarter on a 44-yard field goal by Payne after Nebraska transfer Brown knocked down a Quinn third-down pass attempt on the Fighting Irish 20 yard-line, forcing a punt and BYU possession at midfield.

BYU's defense then took control of the game, using a series of pooch punts by Payne to pin down Notre Dame inside the Irish 15 yard-line on three second-quarter possessions after Brown forced a fumble that Brady Poppinga recovered to start the second quarter.

Soon after the turnover, Beck left the field for the locker room after taking a hit on an option pitch play. Beck didn't come out until the Cougars ran another play. In somewhat conservative play calls to protect the 10-point lead, the strategy didn't lead to any first downs, but set up a BYU 53-yard Payne field goal with 1:34 to play in the first half for a BYU 13-0 lead.

Notre Dame's first score, a chip-shot field goal as time expired in the first half, came on the first excursion across the 50 in the game by the Irish. D.J. Fitzpatrick's 21-yarder ended a 77-yard drive aided by a Poppinga facemask penalty. Just before that score Burbidge had his hands on a Quinn pass in the flats that may have led to a Cougar defensive touchdown.

The Cougar defense kept the pressure on in the third, with sacks on Quinn by linebackers Markell Staffieri and Poppinga as the Cougars shook off a fumble by Fahu Tahi that set up the Irish on the Cougar 35 on BYU's first possession of the second half. Poppinga's sack killed a Notre Dame fourth-and-2 play.

Those plays set up a pair of Berry first-down tosses to tight end Daniel Coats, leading to a 42-yard touchdown bomb to the freshman Collie that build a 20-3 Cougar lead.

The Irish answered in 13 seconds on a 54-yard Quinn to Rhema McKnight receiver screen to close to 20-10 with 4:24 in the third. It was McKnight's longest catch and run of his career.

E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com