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Kicker was Payne for Notre Dame

Special-teams star lifted Cougars to season-opening win

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BYU senior Matt Payne unloads a kickoff Saturday against Notre Dame.

BYU senior Matt Payne unloads a kickoff Saturday against Notre Dame.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

PROVO — Matt Payne's a big guy, especially for a kicker. Good thing, because he carries a big load for BYU's special teams.

The double-duty performance turned in by Payne in BYU's 20-17 victory over Notre Dame Saturday night may have been the best of his career. And that's saying a lot, considering all that he has accomplished with the Cougars. He's now in his fourth season as BYU's starting placekicker and in his third as the starting punter.

The 6-foot-4, 234-pound senior from North Ogden played a major role in BYU's win. He booted a pair of first-half field goals, a 44-yarder and a 53-yarder — with the latter tying a career-high. He also had six of his punts downed inside Notre Dame's 20-yard line. One of them, a 63-yarder, pinned the Irish on their own 8.

"I always thought he was one of the better kickers, punters and all-around special-teams players in the country," said BYU coach Gary Crowton. "He did a great job. He had an outstanding game, and hopefully he can continue to do so throughout this year."

"This was a big game for us, special teams-wise, especially with punting and pinning them inside the 10-yard line, making (Notre Dame) go a long ways to get points," Payne said. Payne, a Lou Groza Award candidate, showed off his athleticism in the third quarter when he bobbled a snap from center, eluded the Notre Dame rush and pooched the ball to the Irish 2-yard-line.

"It was a low snap to my right. I should have had it," Payne said. "I just kind of fumbled it. I rolled out, juked one guy and then decided to kick it on the run. I wasn't sure if I should run it or kick it. I just did a rugby-style punt."

The Cougars unveiled a new punt formation Saturday, with three protectors in front of Payne.

"I like the formation a lot," he said. "It's almost like a kickoff cover. We get down the field real fast."

"We changed our punting scheme a little bit, and we did some things we felt could help his skills so we could get guys down there and he could place the ball all over," Crowton said.

Payne's 53-yard field goal, which propelled BYU to a 13-0 lead, matched his career best, which he recorded last year at Southern California. In school history, the Cougars have recorded only four field goals of 53 yards or more. Payne now owns two of them.

Still, he wasn't completely happy with the way that kick went.

"I knew it had plenty of distance. I kind of hit it off of my toe," Payne said. "I was disappointed in myself that I didn't hit it well. It was a big kick for us. It was exciting to see (holder) Riley Weber's expression after I made it because this was his first game holding for us. He just looked like a little kid, as happy as he could be."

After Saturday, Payne moved into third place on BYU's all-time scoring list with 244 points, passing Jamal Willis and Kurt Gunther. He needs 47 more points to overtake Luke Staley and 90 to vault past Owen Pochman and become the Cougars' all-time leading scorer.

E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com