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Licensed to bowl: Cougars down Cowboys, become bowl eligible with sixth win

LARAMIE, Wyo. — The past, the present and the future of BYU football all came together Saturday night in the streaking Cougars' 35-21 victory over the slumping Wyoming Cowboys at Laramie's War Memorial Stadium.

The past — as in guaranteeing a winning season and bowl eligibility, something the Cougars haven't enjoyed for three years.

The present — as in first-year head coach Bronco Mendenhall's team riding a five-victory hot streak in Mountain West Conference play into next weekend's regular-season finale against rival Utah.

And the future — as coaches and players all spoke not of reaching an achievement but rather sustaining a progression for seasons to come.

Good things came in multiples for the Cougars against the Cowboys — Curtis Brown rushed for 153 yards and a pair of touchdown runs, John Beck completed 20-of-29 passes for a complementary 179 yards and a pair of TD throws to tight end Jonny Harline, 11 different receivers hauled in a Beck pass, and linebacker Justin Luettgerodt pounced on three Wyoming fumbles and picked off one of the two interceptions thrown by Cowboy QB Corey Bramlet.

With the victory, BYU improves to 6-4 overall and 5-2 in the Mountain West standings, good for sole possession of second place. Wyoming, tormented by continued turnover troubles, dropped its fifth straight and fell to inverse marks of 4-6 and 2-5.

More opposites for the two squads — BYU guaranteed itself a winning regular-season record and assured itself of bowl eligibility, something the Cougars haven't experienced since 2001. Meanwhile, Wyoming is assured a losing record, dashing the Cowboys' slim bowl hopes going into Saturday's game.

"It's good to have a winning season — even more than being bowl eligible," said Mendenhall, mindful his Cougars have won five of their last six outings, the loss at nationally ranked Notre Dame being the sole blemish. "We've not faded down the stretch, but we've gained momentum."

The Cougars, who have turned their early penchant for giving the ball away, have gone several games without a turnover and forced opponents into untimely fumbles and interceptions. And in Wyoming, they had a willing companion — the Cowboys had committed 17 turnovers in their last four losses.

Luettgerodt recovered three fumbles and joined defensive back Corby Hodgkiss with interceptions in stymieing Cowboy possessions, and the offense scored three TDs off the turnovers.

"When necessary, the defense came away with the football," Mendenhall said. "It wasn't always pretty, it was effective."

Added Beck: "That was the biggest part of the game — if we give out a game ball, it's gotta go to the defense."

Wyoming needed only five plays to go 80 yards, with Bramlet hitting Jovon Bouknight with a 21-yard scoring pass and Deric Yaussi's PAT giving the Cowboys a 7-0 lead less than 150 seconds into the game.

BYU countered quickly on its first possession, with the 84-yard drive — one of three long-distance scoring possessions between 84 and 94 yards — culminating on a six-yard TD run by Brown and point-after kick by Jared McLaughlin.

After stopping Wyoming and then missing a 46-yard field-goal try, the Cougars countered with their first go-ahead TD of the night after Luettgerodt collected a Devin Moore fumble at the Wyoming 34 — a call that was reviewed by video replay but upheld. BYU scored four plays later on a 14-yard pass from Beck to Harline.

Wyoming answered with Wynel Seldon's 69-yard sweep and sideline gallop for a score to pull even at 14-all. Seldon finished 110 yards rushing and a pair of TDs.

Moving as quickly as a child eating chocolate pudding with a fork, the Cougars regained the lead on a 17-play, 78-yard drive that consumed eight minutes and 21 seconds and stretched from the final minute of the first quarter through midway in the second. It was capped by another six-yard Brown burst up the middle.

The Cougars concluded the first half with a pair of turnovers — Luettgerodt's second fumble recovery and Hodgkiss' interception, with Fahu Tahi's one-yard TD plunge soon after the fumble giving BYU a 28-14 lead good through intermission.

Wyoming seemed to regain momentum in the second half, turning a 19-yard Derek McLaughlin punt into a short scoring drive on Sneldon's two-yard TD run. The Cowboys forced another punt, returning it 46 yards to the BYU 21 and moving to the 7 in three plays before Bramlet bobbled a high snap and couldn't get a clean exchange to Moore, with the football bouncing off the latter's knee and ending up in the hands of — who else? — Luettgerodt.

From there, the Cougars drove 94 yards, with Beck gaining nearly half when he stepped away from a blitzing Cowboy and scrambled 45 yards well into Wyoming territory. Five plays later, he tossed a ball into the back corner of the end zone, where Harline leaped over the defense, tipping the ball to himself for an acrobatic TD catch and a 35-21 score, which held through the end of the game.

After a winning effort that he called "down and dirty," BYU linebacker Cameron Jensen put the win, the winning season and the bowl eligibility in perspective.

"It feels great after three years," he said. "It's a great start — to have a winning season. But we're going to build on that."


E-mail: taylor@desnews.com