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BYU hangs on to beat Wyoming in wet, wild Poinsettia Bowl

SAN DIEGO — In a town known for its mild, balmy weather, nobody expected Mother Nature to play a factor on Wednesday night at Qualcomm Stadium.

As a steady rain fell in the first half, creating soggy conditions, both BYU and Wyoming made miscues.

But the Cougars took an early lead and when the rain subsided in the second half, they hung on for a dramatic 24-21 victory over the Cowboys in the Poinsettia Bowl before a crowd of 28,114.

BYU was clinging to a tenuous three-point lead with 1:22 remaining in the game when Kai Nacua intercepted Cowboy quarterback Josh Allen to seal the win.

"I was thankful he was able to do that on his last play as a Cougars," said coach Kalani Sitake. "He made plays all night."

"I almost overran the ball because I was so excited," Nacua said. "I knew it was coming to me."

Another senior playing his final game as a Cougar, Jamaal Williams, ran wild in his mud-stained, all-white jersey, rushing 26 times for 210 yards and a touchdown. He credited his teammates' blocking.

"I love may linemen, I've got them and they've got me. We can't do anything, can't run, can pass, without the offensive line," he said.

And sophomore quarterback Tanner Mangum, making his first start of the season, completed 8 of 15 passes for 96 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

BYU’s defense limited Wyoming to 373 yards of total offense, forced two turnovers, and pitched a first-half shutout.

With the win, the Cougars, who finished Sitake’s inaugural season with a 9-4 record, snapped their three-game bowl losing streak. BYU’s last bowl win came here four years ago in a 23-6 victory over San Diego State.

Wyoming (8-6) lost its eighth consecutive game to the Cougars, dating back to 2004.

But the Cowboys showed some grit late in the game. They were trailing, 24-7, early in the fourth quarter when they came storming back with a pair of touchdowns in the final eight minutes.

BYU led 24-21 when Mangum was sacked for an 11-yard loss on third-and-5, forcing the Cougars to punt from their own 10-yard line with less than two minutes remaining.

After Allen completed a 19-yard pass to put the ball in Cougar territory, Allen tried again to go deep but Nacua, like he’s done so many times in his career, was in perfect position to snatch the ball out of the sky. It was Nacua’s sixth interception of the season and 14th of his career.

And with that, Wyoming’s comeback attempt was over.

The Cowboys’ 16-play, 60-yard drive to open the second half took 8:22 off clock that ended with a Brian Hill touchdown to cut Wyoming's deficit to 10-7.

Then Mangum floated a pass into the end zone that hit tight Tanner Balderee’s hands, ricocheted off of Wyoming cornerback Antonio Hull, and back to Balderree for a 5-yard touchdown. That made it 17-7 for the Cougars.

Wyoming was driving on its following series when BYU’s Micah Hannemann was penalized and ejected for targeting. On the next play, Allen’s pass on a flea-flicker was intercepted by cornerback Dayan Lake.

Then the Cougars made the Cowboys pay.

A 36-yard touchdown run by Williams, aided by an impressive downfield block by wide receiver Jonah Trinnaman, put BYU up, 24-7, with 14:07 remaining in the game.

VIDEO: Jamaal Williams (@jswaggdaddy) scores his final TD for @BYUfootball, this 36-yarder to put the Cougars up 24-7 on Wyoming pic.twitter.com/yuQt73EChG

— Brandon Judd (@brandonljudd) December 22, 2016

"Jonah had the best block in the world," Williams said.

Still, Wyoming didn’t quit.

The ‘Pokes responded with a 14-play, 76 yard drive that consumed 6:26, resulting in a nine-yard touchdown pass from Allen to Tanner Gentry to make it 24-14 Cougars.

Wyoming struck again with 2:11 left as Allen found Gentry again on a 23-yard TD pass. At that point, Wyoming trailed, 24-21.

During a rain-soaked first half, the weather took a toll.

"There were so many different moments where the elements had an effect on the game," Sitake said. "The weather caused problems for both teams."

Late in the first quarter, Wyoming punter Ethan Wood mishandled a snap deep in his own territory and the Cougars got the ball at the Cowboy 3-yard line.

VIDEO: Here's the bobbled snap on a punt attempt for Wyoming that set up the @BYUfootball touchdown to make it 7-0 pic.twitter.com/n9mhFPHRXa

— Brandon Judd (@brandonljudd) December 22, 2016

Two plays later, Mangum dove into the end zone for a 3-yard score to give BYU a 7-0 lead with 38 seconds left in the first quarter.

VIDEO: @tannermangum gives @BYUfootball the 7-0 lead with the TD run on a rainy night here in San Diego at the Poinsettia Bowl pic.twitter.com/xPTCuv2UYr

— Brandon Judd (@brandonljudd) December 22, 2016

While Mangum threw his first interception of the season early in the second quarter, Wyoming drove down to the BYU 24-yard line. The Cowboys attempted a field goal, but the holder, Nick Szpor, mishandled the snap, resulting in an incomplete pass broken up by linebacker Harvey Langi.

"That was huge," Sitake said.

On the Cougars’ ensuing drive, Rhett Almond booted a 27-yard field goal to put BYU ahead, 10-0, at halftime.

NOTES: Williams earned offensive MVP honors and linebacker Harvey Langi was named defensive MVP … Williams’ performance gave him 16 100-yard rushing games for his career, the most in school history, surpassing Harvey Unga and Curtis Brown. It was Williams’ third 200-yard rushing game, the most in school history … BYU senior defensive lineman Logan Taele left knee injury in second quarter and did not return.