Valhalla grad Kurtz gets big assist in BYUs Poinsettia Bowl victory

3
49

Exciting finishes are usually reserved for the National Funding Holiday Bowl but the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl upstaged its older sibling for once.

Wednesday evening, Dec. 21, at Qualcomm Stadium, the Brigham Young University Cougars held off the University of Wyoming Cowboys, 24-21, on an interception by BYU’s Kai Nacua after the Cowboys had driven to the Cougar 30-yard line in the dying moments of the game played before 28,114 fans.

Exciting finishes are usually reserved for the National Funding Holiday Bowl but the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl upstaged its older sibling for once.

Wednesday evening, Dec. 21, at Qualcomm Stadium, the Brigham Young University Cougars held off the University of Wyoming Cowboys, 24-21, on an interception by BYU’s Kai Nacua after the Cowboys had driven to the Cougar 30-yard line in the dying moments of the game played before 28,114 fans.

Nacua’s interception with 1:22 remaining in the game sent the BYU sideline into a frenzy and its fans into a delirium. Wyoming faithful, meanwhile, were sent into a state of shock.

The bowl game win was the first for the Cougars since defeating San Diego State University, 23-6, in the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl and the first win for first-year BYU head coach Kalani Sitake.

Three San Diego County prep products enjoyed the sweet taste of victory. Senior receiver Nick Kurtz (Valhalla) caught three passes for 59 yards. He caught a four-yard pass on BYU’s first offensive play of the game and later caught a 39-yard pass to set up the Cougars’ third touchdown.

Mission Hills alums Fred and Troy Warner also made memorable holiday homecomings. Fred Warner made 10 tackles, including 1.5 for a loss.  

“It was a storybook ending for me,” said Kurtz, who caught 49 passes for 541 yards with two touchdowns in the regular season. “I was working at Qualcomm Stadium a couple of years ago and watching the game while I was working. To make it here the way I did and experience that with a group of fine young men   … I couldn’t imagine anything better.

“Coach did a great job of making us feel comfortable and making us feel that he was happy for us to be on his team. We were just so well taken care of. We all loved each other and played for each other. There’s not one kid on this team who would say they didn’t want to play for BYU. We’re proud to represent this school and win a bowl game like this.”

After building a commanding 24-7 lead at the start of the fourth quarter, it appeared the Cougars were destined to wrap up a relatively easy win in the 12th annual bowl game by simply running out the clock. The Cowboys, however, had other ideas.

Tanner Gentry scored on a nine-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Josh Allen with 6:32 left in the fourth quarter to trim BYU’s lead to 24-14.

Allen then connected with Gentry on a 23-yard touchdown pass with 3:00 left in the game to bring Wyoming within three points on the scoreboard.

The Cougars received the ensuing kickoff but Wyoming made a huge defensive play with a sack on BYU signal-caller Tanner Mangum at the 10-yard line. The Cougars punted, with the Cowboys receiving the ball at their own 49yard line with 1:52 left.

Allen threw a screen pass to Brian Hill that gained 19 yards. With the ball already in range for a potential game-tying field goal, it looked like Wyoming was in position to dictate the outcome of the contest. Would the Cowboys tie the game and send it to overtime or would Wyoming possibly score the game-winning touchdown?

Neither happened. Allen scrambled to his right and then lofted a pass across his body that fell short of the mark to the intended receiver – and into the hands of Nacua.

Game over.

It was the second pick thrown by Allen in the game.

The pick was Nacua’s sixth of the season and 14th of his career. 

It was a game-saver for the Cougars.

“To compete in the Poinsettia Bowl is an accomplishment in itself and the win is for the players and the fans, so for me as a coach just being able to help these young men achieve their goals on the football field and help facilitate the goals off the field is my job, (I’m) happy to be a part of it,” the BYU head coach explained. “The win is all them …”

The game-saving interception served to liven up a game that was largely uneventful through the first half due to heavy rain as the teams failed to convert on seven third-down opportunities.

The wet conditions set up the game’s first scoring opportunity when the snap on a punt by Wyoming was fumbled and BYU got the ball on the Cowboy three-yard line. Two plays later Mangum was in the end zone for a rushing touchdown and a 7-0 Cougar lead.

Wyoming got a chance to even the game when Andrew Wingard intercepted a pass by Mangum. However, the drive stalled and the Cowboys attempted a 42-yard field goal. The snap was mishandled when the holder could not properly grip the wet ball and the field goal try went awry.

The miss-play would later prove critical at the end of the game as Wyoming lost by three points.

BYU would promptly march 66 yards down field to boot a 27-yard field goal off the foot of kicker Rhett Almond to take a 10-0 lead.

In a bizarre play late in the third quarter, BYU’s Tanner Balderee caught his own deflection in the end zone for a touchdown. Balderee first got a hand on the ball before it deflected off a Wyoming player’s hands and then back into his own at the back of the end zone.

The play started at the five-yard line and the touchdown boosted the Cougars to a 17-7 lead.

A 36-yard touchdown run by Jamaal Williams with 14:07 to play in the fourth quarter boosted the Cougars to a seemingly comfortable 17-point lead.

Few at the time would realize that this would prove the game-winning touchdown.

Williams led BYU with 210 rushing yards and scored one touchdown to earn the game’s offensive MVP honors of the game.

“BYU’s Sitake called Wyoming’s missed field goal and punt fumble “huge” in determining the outcome of the game.

“I think if you look at so many different moments where you — where the elements had an affect on the game, but worked in our favor on that one and also the punt, so we will take it and both teams had to play in the weather, so it caused problems for both teams,” the BYU head coach said. “But I think that we were more fortunate with the weather and all that.”

3 COMMENTS

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here