First of all, the Mayans were apparently wrong, or at least contemporary interpretation of them was. We knew it all along. For anyone who was scared, remember this for next time: in sports, the first sign of the apocalypse will be the Pac 12 inviting the Cougars into their conference.
It was a somewhat disappointing year for the Cougars in basketball and football. The basketball team struggled to “replace” Jimmer Fredette in the season that ended in March and the football team struggled against elite (and even not so elite) competition. While the basketball team made it to the NCAA Tournament and is showing signs of rebirth this season, and the football team won the Poinsettia Bowl, neither team performed as well as anyone, from coaches to players to fans, would have liked.
We’ll end the year talking about the Poinsettia bowl victory. 7-5 BYU entered the game as a trendy underdog to 9-3 San Diego State. SDSU had an easier schedule than the Cougars, but most in the media paid more attention to their 9 wins than the teams they beat to get to that number. Meanwhile, the Cougars, with starting QB Riley Nelson “questionable” for the game, looked to outsiders like a beaten team before they even got to the game.
At other schools, the media might have been right. A 7-5 team usually doesn’t have much motivation to play hard in a bowl game. Adding to this point of view is the fact that SDSU sees BYU as a “rivalry game,” while BYU usually has three serious rivals to worry about. A lot of 7-5 teams get to a bowl game and treat it like a vacation.
The Cougars aren’t “a lot of teams.” They may lose a few games, but they don’t give up, and they always put forth their best effort. There was no way the Cougars were going to be “asleep at the wheel” against the Aztecs.
When James Lark started, it was a chance for him to “prove” that there should have been a quarterback controversy. It came as no surprise to many, though, that what Lark “proved” is that Coach Mendenhall is smarter than some people have given him credit for lately. Lark did an admirable job as a fill-in; he has been a top-notch citizen and human being during his time in Provo. But, against better competition, he definitely did not look like a starting quarterback, or someone who could ever come close to unseating a healthy Riley Nelson.
Nelson won games for the Cougars with his will, his feet, and even his much-maligned arm. Lark didn’t have to win this game, because he wasn’t asked to. All he had to do was manage the game, count on the defense, and not do anything to lose the game. The defense took care of the rest.
The first quarter ended with a 3-0 lead for SDSU, as both defenses played well. Ezekiel Ansah intercepted a pass for the Cougars on the first drive, after SDSU had moved the ball into BYU territory. The second quarter saw another SDSU field goal for a 6-0 lead, and it also saw Riley Nelson try to play, only to throw an interception on his fifth play. Justin Sorenson would score the Cougars’ first points with a field goal as the half ended to close the game to 6-3.
The third quarter started with Lark driving into SDSU territory, only to throw an interception. From then on, the quarter was another “defensive struggle,” as nothing really happened on offense for either team.
In the fourth quarter, though, the Cougars’ superior conditioning and maturity would determine the outcome of the game. The Cougars took over on the 50 two plays into the half, and Lark would drive the team smartly to the SDSU 4, where he then threw an interception. If there was ever a time for SDSU to seize the game and the Cougars to fax it in, it would have been after the interception. Instead, Kyle Van Noy would recover a fumble in the end zone. In the space of 5 seconds, the Cougars led, 10-6.
On the next play from scrimmage, SDSU fumbled again at their own 14, and Jordan Johnson recovered. Jamaal Williams would take it in for a TD on the next play, and suddenly the Cougars were ahead 16-6 as Justin Sorenson missed the extra point attempt.
The offense got a couple of first downs on the Cougars’ next possession, but didn’t really do much. Luckily, the defense took care of business as Kyle Van Noy intercepted a pass for another touchdown and a 23-6 lead. The Cougars would intercept yet another pass, this time by Alani Fua, and the Cougars would then run out the clock.
The first game ball goes to Kyle Van Noy. Van Noy has been the unquestioned leader of the defense this year, and helped keep the Cougars in every game except one this year. We hope he decides to come back for one more year, but understand it if he doesn’t. Kyle Van Noy really should have been given consideration for the Heisman Trophy, but not even Manti Te’o and the Notre Dame hype machine could get a Heisman for someone who plays defense.
The second game ball Riley Stephenson, who had 6 punts downed inside the 20, and 4 punts downed inside the 3 in the second half. 2 of those punts were downed at the 1. This helped create the turnovers that eventually won the game for the Cougars.
We’ll give the third game ball to Lark: not because he did anything special this game, but because he is a class act, and managed the game well enough to give the defense a chance to win. He didn’t do anything great, but he kept his poise enough to keep the Cougars in the game until the defense made good things happen.
It wasn’t the best year, but it ended well, and the Cougars have something to smile about as they start thinking about next year.
We’d like to wish everyone a happy and prosperous 2013, and look forward to a great year for the Cougars.