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Provo • Defensive MVP Harvey Langi played the game of his career in a position different than the ones he played all season, offensive MVP Jamaal Williams ripped through Wyoming's defense for the second-most rushing yards in Poinsettia Bowl history, and Kai Nacua solidified his standing among the best safeties in school history with a game-saving interception in the final two minutes.
BYU's fourth captain, injured quarterback Taysom Hill, watched it all from the sidelines as the Cougars held off Wyoming 24-21 at soggy Qualcomm Stadium, his contribution under center to the 9-4 season in head coach Kalani Sitake's inaugural season having paved the way for his teammates to even be in a position to shine.
Fittingly, BYU's seniors almost every one of the 21 who were honored on Nov. 26 before the 28-10 win over Utah State are the reason the Cougars snapped their three-bowl losing skid Wednesday night.
"Well, I think it is a huge compliment to these young men, these seniors," Sitake said. "They've been leading this team the entire time. I get way too much credit for doing things as a head coach when these guys have made it so much easier for me."
Sitake said the captains are also why the Cougars were able to shake off a 1-3 start and win eight of their final nine games, the only loss in that stretch a one-pointer at Boise State.
"The guys played their butts off and they lead, and they're great young men," Sitake said. "I just sat there and watched them take the team and they did it. Made me look good."
Sophomore quarterback Tanner Mangum added his congratulations after throwing for a touchdown OK, he was bailed out of an awful throw by a fortunate series of tips and rushing for another in an otherwise forgettable game for Hill's heir apparent.
"So pumped for our seniors to go out the way they did. It was an honor playing with them," Mangum noted.
First, there was Langi, the defensive end/running back who moved back to linebacker to fill in for suspended starter Francis Bernard and injured backups Adam Pulsipher and Austin Heder. He was in on 16 tackles, broke up a pass and made a tackle for loss.
"First and foremost I want to give a shout-out to the D line," Langi said. "The other linebackers got me up to speed these past couple of weeks as I tried to come back to playing linebacker."
Then there was Nacua, whose 14th career pick moved him into a fourth-place tie on BYU's interceptions list with Derwin Gray. The former high school quarterback didn't return it for a pick-six like he did last year against Boise State to seal that win, but it will likely go down as the biggest play in a standout career.
"I almost over-ran the ball because I was so excited and I knew it was coming," Nacua said, describing the play. "That's what [Wyoming QB Josh Allen] is used to doing, and I ended up picking it."
Of course, Williams also shined, easily surpassing Hill's BYU bowl record for rushing yards, 133 against Washington in the 2013 Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. Williams finished with a school-record 3,901 rushing yards on 726 carries.
"These guys have played every down their hardest and I can't ask for anything more as a coach," Sitake said.
It was one of the best senior classes in school history, a group that set an NCAA record for the fewest points separating a four-loss team from an unbeaten season, eight points, according to Cougarstats.com. They tied an NCAA record with seven games in a season decided by three points or fewer.
Other senior stars Wednesday night included receivers Nick Kurtz and Colby Pearson and offensive linemen Andrew Eide, Kyle Johnson and Parker Dawe. On defense, Logan Taele was headed for a big night before leaving with a knee strain, while linebacker Sae Tautu and cornerback Michael Davis made important plays.
Other seniors who didn't contribute quite as much at Qualcomm but were vital to the program's success were receivers Mitchell and Garrett Juergens, fullbacks Algernon Brown and Toloa'i Ho Ching (injured), Maurice Maxwell (injured), safeties Eric Takenaka and Chris Badger and defensive tackle Travis Tuiloma (injured).
BYU seniors shined in bowl win
• Jamaal Williams*RB*26 carries for 210 yards, touchdown
• Nick Kurtz*WR*Three catches for 59 yards, long of 39
• Colby Pearson**WR*Two catches for 16 yards, long of 12
• Andrew Eide*OL*Paved way for 216 rushing yards
• Taysom Hill*QB*Injured leader calmed, settled down Mangum
• Logan Taele*DL*Clogged middle before leaving with knee injury
• Harvey Langi*LB*Switched positions again, made 16 tackles
• Kai Nacua*DB*Game-sealing interception with 1:22 remaining
• Michael Davis*DB*Helped hold Wyoming to 207 passing yards
• Sae Tautu*DE*Forced an intentional grounding penalty with near sack