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The great, the good, the bad and the ugly of BYU’s first decade of independence

In a decade defined by BYU’s Declaration of Independence, the Cougars produced some memorable victories and amazing individual performances. Over the past 10 seasons, BYU also suffered inexplicable losses, a bizarre game-ending brawl at the Miami Beach Bowl, an abysmal four-win season in 2017 — the worst campaign in 50 years — and nine consecutive losses to arch-rival Utah.

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill (4) runs away from Texas Longhorns linebacker Steve Edmond (33) BYU and Texas play Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 at LaVell Edwards stadium. BYU won 40-21.
Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill (4) runs away from Texas Longhorns linebacker Steve Edmond (33) BYU and Texas play Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 at LaVell Edwards stadium. BYU won 40-21.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

PROVO — In a decade defined by BYU’s Declaration of Independence, the Cougars produced some memorable victories and amazing individual performances.

Over the past 10 seasons, BYU also suffered inexplicable losses, a bizarre game-ending brawl at the Miami Beach Bowl, an abysmal four-win season in 2017 — the worst campaign in 50 years — and nine consecutive losses to archrival Utah.

The decade of 2010-19 also saw coach Bronco Mendenhall leave Provo to take the head job at Virginia (he guided the Cavaliers to this year’s Orange Bowl) and Kalani Sitake take over the program. It also marked the passing of legendary coach LaVell Edwards.

Among the highlights of the past decade:

Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Kyle Van Noy (3) forces a fumble on San Diego State quarterback Adam Dingwell (6) and recovers it for a touchdown during the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
  • In BYU’s first game of the independence era, the Cougars trailed Ole Miss 13-0 midway through the fourth quarter. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy scored the game-winning touchdown with 5:09 remaining when he swatted the ball away from quarterback Zack Stoudt, scooped it up at the 3-yard line and scored. In the final game of the 2012 season, Van Noy single-handedly led BYU to a 23-6 win over San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl with a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns — a strip sack fumble recovery in the end zone and later on a pick-six.
  • In 2014, quarterback Taysom Hill was receiving Heisman Trophy hype while leading the Cougars to a 4-0 start and a No. 18 national ranking. His signature moment was leaping over a Longhorn defender in a 41-7 demolition of Texas in Austin. However, a few weeks later, Hill suffered one of his four season-ending injuries in a home loss to Utah State. The previous season, Hill completed 29 of 44 passes for 417 yards and four touchdowns and he also rushed for 113 yards in a wild 47-46 win at Houston.
Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Mitch Mathews (10) catches the game winning hail mary touchdown against Nebraska in Lincoln, NE Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015. BYU won 33-28.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
  • In the first half in the season opener at Nebraska in 2015, Hill was looking like a Heisman candidate again — until he suffered a Lisfranc injury. Replacing Hill was true freshman Tanner Mangum, just months removed from his mission. In his Cougar debut, Mangum threw a 42-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to Mitch Mathews as time expired to carry BYU to a thrilling 33-28 victory over the Cornhuskers.
  • Running back Jamaal Williams missed the entire 2015 season after withdrawing from school but he decided to return to BYU for his final year of eligibility. In 2016, he became the Cougars’ all-time leading rusher, finishing with a career total of 3,901 yards. Williams also broke the single-game school record for most rushing yards — 286 — in a 55-53 win over Toledo, a record that had stood for 54 years. He also scored five touchdowns that night. In his final game as a Cougar, Williams ran for 210 yards and a touchdown on a rainy night in San Diego at the Poinsettia Bowl.
  • As a 22-point underdog, nobody gave BYU much of a chance at No. 6 Wisconsin early in the 2018 season. Especially considering the Cougars lost 40-6 at home the previous season. But BYU out-Wisconsin-ed the Badgers with a physical style of play on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The Cougars also scored on a trick play (fittingly called “Bucky,” after Wisconsin’s mascot) as Mangum lateraled the ball to wide receiver Aleva Hifo, who threw a perfect strike to a wide-open Moroni Laulu-Pututau, giving BYU a 14-7 advantage in the first half.

Going into the fourth quarter, the Cougars were loose and relaxed. On the sidelines, they participated in Wisconsin’s traditional “Jump Around,” a song coaches had been blaring all week on the loudspeakers on the practice field in Provo.

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake leaps into the air as he celebrates with Brigham Young Cougars defensive back Austin Lee as a Wisconsin field goal sailed wide, giving the Cougars the victory at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin, on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

BYU true freshman Skyler Southam booted a 45-yard field goal with 9:58 remaining. Wisconsin senior placekicker Rafael Gaglianone, meanwhile, missed a 42-yarder with 41 seconds remaining. Had the ball gone through the uprights, the game likely would have gone into overtime. Instead, it touched off a joyous celebration on the Cougar sidelines. Final: BYU 24, No. 6 Wisconsin 21.

For the Cougars, it was their first win over a top-10 opponent in a true road game since a 20-14 victory over No. 3 Pitt in 1984. Before beating the Badgers, the last top-10 team BYU defeated was No. 3 Oklahoma at Cowboys Stadium in 2009.