BYU football: Cougars' punter unsung hero in Poinsettia Bowl win
San Diego • Linebacker Kyle Van Noy personally outscored both offenses and receiver Cody Hoffman passed the 100-yard receiving plateau for the third straight bowl game as BYU's dynamic duo of junior standouts earned defensive and offensive MVP honors, respectively, in the Cougars' 23-6 win over San Diego State on Thursday night.
But SDSU coach Rocky Long said he would have given at least one of the MVP trophies to BYU's punter, Riley Stephenson. It would not have been a bad choice, but there wasn't an honor for the special teams MVP.
"I don't know who got the most valuable player, but I thought the most valuable player was their punter," Long said. "He put the ball inside the 5-yard line at least five or six times. I don't know exactly how many, but field position made it tough on our offense."
Before Van Noy caused and recovered a fumble for a touchdown and returned an interception 17 yards for another score, and before Hoffman had most of his 114 receiving yards, Stephenson pinned the Aztecs deep in their own territory time after time.
"A lot of times when you are inside the 50, you can't just get ahold of it and boom it," Stephenson said. "You just gotta drop it in the corner and hopefully it stays inside the 10. So it is not much of a kick, but look what it did tonight."
Coincidentally, it was his also-MVP-worthy performance in last year's Armed Forces Bowl that convinced Stephenson to work even harder on trying to pin opponents next to their goal line. In the 24-21 win over Tulsa, Stephenson's booming punts often flipped the field in BYU's favor.
"That motivated me to do well every game," he said.
The All-American placed six punts inside the 20, including four inside the 5-yard-line and two at the 1-yard-line.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said it will be difficult to replace Stephenson, who will be remembered as one of the top punters in school history. The odds-on favorite to be next year's punter is Scott Arellano, a walk-on from Santa Ynez, Calif., who played a year at Foothill College in that state.
Stephenson is one of 29 seniors with whom the Cougars (8-5) started the 2012 season, and Mendenhall said he will begin thinking in a few weeks about how he will plug a lot of holes. After the coach improved his bowl record to 6-2 with the win, he wanted to enjoy it for a while, he said.
"What I've come to understand is BYU football is bigger than myself as the head coach and it is bigger than any single player," Mendenhall said. "There are strong core values and a strong organization that is in place and anyone that is lucky enough to join the program I think we will get the most out of them and the program will continue to grow. â¦ But I am not interested in looking ahead [right now]. I am looking forward to celebrating with our seniors and the players on this team."
After knocking off UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl two years ago to finish the season 7-6, Mendenhall shuffled his offensive staff. Certainly, there will be at least one change, because after the game Thursday, tight ends coach and associate head coach Lance Reynolds announced his retirement.
Reynolds played for BYU and was an assistant at the school for 29 seasons.
Riley Stephenson's finale
Punts Yds Avg Lng Inside 20 TBs
8 268 33.5 44 6 0