This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
San Diego • Jamaal Williams said he didn't need to put on a show for NFL scouts in the 2016 Poinsettia Bowl. The BYU running back did it anyway.
The school's all-time leading rusher collected 210 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries and senior safety Kai Nacua made a game-saving interception as BYU snapped its three-game bowl losing streak with a 24-21 win over Wyoming in front of 28,114 at Qualcomm Stadium.
Williams, the bowl's offensive MVP, ran 36 yards for a touchdown the second play of the fourth quarter to give BYU a 24-7 lead, but the Cowboys refused to wilt. Wyoming scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to get back in it, and was driving again before Nacua stepped in front of a Josh Allen pass with 1:22 to end the threat after the Cowboys had reached the BYU 33.
"We were hoping one of these guys would make a play," BYU coach Kalani Sitake said, surrounded by Williams and defensive captains Nacua and Harvey Langi. "We needed someone to make a big play, and it happened to be Kai's turn."
A 14-play drive to cut the deficit to 24-14 with 7:35 remaining. The Cowboys got the ball back and drove 81 yards for a touchdown in three minutes. Allen's third-and-4 toss to Tanner Gentry made it 24-21 with 2:11 remaining.
"It came down to a play or two, here or there," said Wyoming coach Craig Bohl, who thought the field conditions in rained the entire first half "affected both teams, but I thought it affected us a little bit more."
Wyoming outgained BYU 373-312, but foundered offensively in the first half. Langi earned defensive MVP honors after making 13 tackles.
"There were so many different moments when the elements had an effect on the game, but we will take it," Sitake said.
Held scoreless in the first half, Wyoming converted two fourth-down opportunities and went 60 yards for a touchdown on its first possession of the second half to cut BYU's lead to 10-7. Brian Hill, who didn't play in the first quarter for violating team curfew, scored on a 4-yard touchdown run, the first time BYU had been scored on in a second half since Oct. 20 against Boise State.
The Cougars got lucky to take a 17-7 lead, scoring when Tanner Mangum's wobbly pass was tipped twice and into the hands of Tanner Balderree for a 5-yard touchdown.
"That Mangum magic happened again," Sitake said.
Mangum struggled in his first start of the season, completing just 8 of 15 passes for 96 yards and an interception. He played better in the second half, but was sacked for an 11-yard loss by Wyoming's Kevin Prosser with 1:52 remaining, and Jonny Linehan's punt barely made it to midfield.
"Yeah, he just didn't throw stupid passes," Sitake said, agreeing that the sophomore settled down after halftime.
The Cougars were playing without safety Micah Hannemann, who was ejected after an obvious targeting play near the end of the third quarter, when Wyoming made the comeback.
Freshman Dayan Lake picked off a flea-flicker attempt on the next play after Hannemann's miscue and returned it 14 yards to the BYU 45 to set up Williams' TD run.
Rain fell throughout the first half, resulting in some sloppy play from both teams.
The Cougars committed two turnovers in the first half the second lost fumble of Williams' career and Mangum's first interception of the season but their defense rose up and kept Wyoming out of the end zone after the miscues.
Williams had 121 rushing yards in the first half, on 15 carries.
"I am nothing without my line," Williams said. "They really need more credit than we do."
The Cougars finished the season 9-4 and won their first bowl game since 2012 on this same field, when they drubbed San Diego State 23-6 in their first Poinsettia Bowl appearance.
"The win is actually for the players and the fans," Sitake said. "I will take wins no matter how they come, but it would be nice to not have them be so close."
Twitter: @drewjay Storylines
R Kai Nacua's interception with 1:22 remaining halts Wyoming's comeback attempt.
• Jamaal Williams rushes for 210 yards and a touchdown.
• Wyoming scores two fourth-quarter touchdowns to cut into BYU's 17-point lead before Nacua's sixth pick of the season.