OXFORD, Miss. — Playing in its inaugural game as an independent, many were expecting BYU to celebrate its newfound freedom with offensive fireworks.
But that didn't happen.
Instead, the real fireworks came from the Cougar defense.
Trailing 13-0 midway through the fourth quarter, BYU rallied for two touchdowns, including the game-winning TD by linebacker Kyle Van Noy with 5:09 remaining, to earn a dramatic 14-13 season-opening victory over Ole Miss at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
"I just got lucky. That's all it was," Van Noy said of his touchdown. "I tried to make something happen."
Van Noy, who played wide receiver in high school, is always looking for a chance to score points. While the Cougar offense had hung nothing but a doughnut on the scoreboard for most of the game, Van Noy found the end zone with relative ease.
"I'm an offensive player on defense," Van Noy said. "I went straight for the ball because I wanted the ball back."
Van Noy's heroics helped compensate for a sputtering Cougar offense that saw several drives stall due to penalties, mistakes and a crucial turnover.
The Rebels faced third-and-27 from its own 21-yard line when Van Noy lined up wide, sped past the Ole Miss right tackle, and swatted the ball away from quarterback Zack Stoudt. Van Noy scooped up the ball at the 3-yard line and scored.
BYU offensive tackle Matt Reynolds, who was watching that play unfold from the sideline, knew what was going to happen even before the ball was snapped.
"It's funny. I saw Kyle Van Noy line up … I thought, 'That tackle has no idea what's coming,'" said Reynolds, who has spent the past month lining up against Van Noy in practice. "I've seen that stance in camp. I know what's coming. Sure enough, he came flying off that edge. It was so exciting. It was so fun."
"At a critical time, he made a critical play to help us win the football game," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. "That's how you have consistency in terms of wins and success. That's how, hopefully, we can groom our players to be. (Legendary UCLA basketball coach) John Wooden has talked a lot about being at your best when you best was needed. That's kind of what that moment was."
While the Cougar offense struggled, the defense did its part, holding the Rebels to 208 yards of total offense, and forcing two turnovers. BYU did not surrender an offensive touchdown, just a pair of field goals.
"We gave up six points, which is phenomenal," Van Noy said. "(Ole Miss is) a good team. They're fast and big. They played really well offensively. When we needed stops, we got them. Our defense found a way."
And the BYU offense was thrilled about that.
"It did me good to see Kyle Van Noy make that play, to see them get the ball in the end zone," Reynolds said. "Our defense, time after time after time held up, stopped them and did a really great job."
Sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps, who completed 24-of-38 passes for 225 yards, had an up-and-down performance.
Midway through the third quarter, Heaps drove the Cougars to the Ole Miss 25-yard line before throwing an interception into the hands of Rebel safety Charles Sawyer, who ran 96 yards for a touchdown to lift Ole Miss to a 10-0 advantage.
"We made some mistakes. You look at my turnover, my pick-six," Heaps said. "It's frustrating for me because it wasn't necessarily the wrong decision, it was just late. You can't have those kinds of turnovers when we're driving down like that."
But midway through the fourth quarter, Heaps led the Cougars to their first touchdown of the season when he threw a 19-yard touchdown strike to redshirt freshman Ross Apo. At that point, it was 13-7 for Ole Miss.
Then, on the Rebels' ensuing series, Van Noy forced the fumble, and scored the touchdown that put the Cougars on top for the first time all day and sealed the win.
BYU's offense gained 318 yards and had the ball for nine minutes longer than the Rebels. But it managed to generate only seven points. But the Cougars know it's still early in the season.
"The way we were able to move the football, we could have finished a lot of those drives," Heaps said. "That's the beauty of the first game. It's not going to be the most perfect game. It's not going to go as well as you would hope. But at the end of the day, we came together when it mattered at the end of the fourth quarter. We put it together, and I'm proud of our team."
Heaps said the way his team beat Ole Miss revealed its character.
"For us to come down here in their house and pull off a win like we did — we didn't give up on each other," Heaps said. "We showed a lot of grit, a lot of toughness and a lot of love for each other. I think that's ultimately what got us through that (tough) part."
It marked BYU's second all-time victory against an opponent from the Southeastern Conference.
Mendenhall called Saturday's win "one of the most satisfying victories simply because of how difficult it seemed to execute and get some momentum in a hostile environment. We found a way to win, which says a lot. … That's what happened today."
BYU visits Texas next Saturday.