Cougs win first title since 2001
PROVO - Hundreds of fans bolted from their seats, rushing to a makeshift podium as irritated campus police officers offered up token resistance in most cases.
Civil disobedience was worth the risk of penalty for this moment, which seemed impossible during the throes of the worst football ever played around these parts in recent years. No arbitrary rules were going to prevent a celebration.
For the first time in five years, the longest drought since flowing hair and bushy sideburns were popular, Brigham Young is a football champion. Go crazy, Cougars, and Cougar fans alike.
They did just that - by BYU standards, anyway
- Saturday as night fell on LaVell Edwards Stadium. After four consecutive non-winning seasons, this is a football program that is anything but dark, as the Cougars proved again with another impressive performance in a 42-17 win over New Mexico before a crowd of 63,814.
"I feel honored to be able to represent this program in re-linking a program to championship football, which is what the expectation here at BYU is," said coach Bronco Mendenhall, who won a league title in his second season as a head coach. "It's a great day for our program and a great day for the young men and the work they've provided."
The celebration was not without awkward moments, befitting of a program that currently didn't have experience at winning. After Las Vegas Bowl officials stepped on stage to invite the Mountain West champion, Mendenhall and quarterback John Beck were asked to comment on playing the game against the Pac-10's No. 4 team Dec. 21.
Per Mendenhall's policy, BYU's next game is the biggest. Before the postseason appearance, the Cougars have one more regular-season game against a certain Salt Lake City rival.
The stoic coach allowed for a brief reference to the bowl game. His quarterback initially refused to acknowledge it, but then blew off all caution.
For Beck, championships only come around once.
"It feels good right now, doesn't it?" he said over the public address system on the field. "We're going to beat those guys up north. Beat Utah."
Let him revel in the moment. For three years, because of the position he plays, Beck often bore the brunt of the fans' frustration.
An hour after the game. he re-assumed his position as Mendenhall Jr.
"Our season's not done yet," Beck said. "I knew that when the game ended, my feeling would go straight to the Utah game."
As trite as "one game at a time" sounds, Mendenhall's philosophy has paid huge dividends. In a short time, he got the team to buy into his mantra, instituting unconditional expectations.
With no confusion, as offensive lineman Jake Kuresa has pointed out repeatedly this season, the players have grasped the unwavering day-to-day standards. Those willing to buy in can now refer to themselves as champions.
"I know this is the first of many," said linebacker Cameron Jensen, who shared the captaincy with Beck.
As they've done most of the season, the Cougars buried their opponent early. On the game's sixth play, Curtis Brown ran behind Kuresa and sprinted through the opening for a 49-yard touchdown drive.
By halftime, BYU led 28-3. At halftime of seven conference games, the Cougars have combined to lead 172-19.
"They're as good as any team in the top 10," said New Mexico coach Rocky Long. "I promise you, they are."
In a first this season, a Mountain West team outscored BYU in a quarter. The Lobos scored 14 points in the third quarter, seven of which came on Quincy Black's 88-yard interception return to make the score 28-17.
Responding to the slap, BYU stormed back to score a touchdown on an 84-yard drive in eight plays. Beck capped the drive with a 4-yard pass to Matt Allen, one of four touchdowns he tossed.
Not to be outdone, the defense later prevented New Mexico from getting one yard on two plays. After BYU stopped the Lobos on fourth down, the offense went 26 yards for the final score.
"Nothing's going to hold us back," said Brown.
BYU at Utah
SATURDAY, 1:30 p.m., CSTV, mtn.
IN SHORT: In only his second season as coach, Bronco Mendenhall has returned BYU to glory.
KEY MOMENT: In the third quarter, John Beck led BYU on a eight-play, 84-yard scoring drive.
KEY STAT: BYU, which leads the nation in turnover margin, had an interception and fumble recovery inside its 30-yard line in the first half.