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Cougars take down Huskies

Published September 5, 2010 9:21 pm

Fourth-quarter defensive stand secures a season-opening win for Cougars.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo • BYU's two-headed quarterback made its long-awaited debut on an unseasonably warm September night at LaVell Edwards Stadium, but it took a defensive player's noggin to seal the win Saturday.

With Washington driving for the potential game-winning touchdown in the final minutes, BYU defensive end Eathyn Manumaleuna got his head in the way of Heisman Trophy hopeful Jake Locker's fourth-down pass, and the crowd let out its collective breath as the ball fell harmlessly to the turf. The defensive stand with 1 minute, 55 seconds remaining on BYU's 25-yard line enabled the Cougars to escape with a 23-17 win in front of 63,731 sweating fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

"I guess it is all luck," Manumaleuna said after describing how he hung back a bit due to Locker's running ability.

If that name, coupled with late-game tips, sounds familiar, it should. Manumaleuna got a finger on a UCLA field goal attempt in the 2007 Las Vegas Bowl to preserve a Cougar win in that contest.

His rather unusual strategy of rotating quarterbacks Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps on every series — without fail — notwithstanding, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said the difference in the game was special teams, and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian — the former Cougar quarterback who was honored at halftime along with the other BYU greats — did not disagree.

The Huskies handed the Cougars a two-point safety when a punt snap sailed over punter Will Mahan's head and into the end zone. Three times, the Huskies were forced to start drives inside their 7-yard line: once when BYU punter Riley Stephenson pinned them there, but twice when UW returner Chris Polk made boneheaded mistakes.

"The underlying story of the game was the field position," said Mendenhall, who picked up his 50th win as a head coach.

Yes, but the Great Quarterback Battle of 2010 has been called a truce, it appears.

Riley Nelson started and played the first series, which was a three-and-out. Jake Heaps entered after Locker drove the Huskies 73 yards in six plays for a touchdown. Heaps' first three plays: incomplete pass, Luke Ashworth reception for no gain, and another incomplete pass.

The Huskies were penalized for roughing the punter — another special teams blunder — but Nelson took over. And it went like that the entire game.

"It won the game for us, didn't it?" Nelson said, then caught himself and said the defenders and special teams players were the heroes in a game in which the Cougars could never pull away, despite holding UW scoreless in the second half.

The quarterbacks said they found out Saturday morning that Heaps would take the second series; Mendenhall said it wasn't really scripted to rotate the quarterbacks on every series, but it seemed to be working so coaches stuck with it.

"Both quarterbacks played to their strengths," he said.

Nelson led the Cougars to both their touchdowns, though. His 9-yard TD pass to freshman Josh Quezada and subsequent two-point conversion run gave BYU a 13-7 lead early in the second quarter.

Washington took a 17-13 lead into halftime after driving from its own 1 to the BYU 35, thanks to a 22-yard run on third-and-8 by Polk when BYU was taking timeouts in hopes of getting the ball back.

Nelson's headiness resulted in BYU's second TD, a 46-yard strike to a wide-open J.J. DiLuigi down the middle of the field. Nelson told DiLuigi, who was supposed to stay in and block, to run a seam route if he thought a linebacker would blitz.

"A lot of people said [the rotating QB system] won't work, but we didn't listen to them," Nelson said.

Symbolically, perhaps, both quarterbacks threw for 131 yards. Heaps was 13-for-23 and Nelson was 11-for-17. Nelson ran for 45 yards, second behind DiLuigi's team-high 69.

So Heaps gets a win in relief, in baseball parlance, over his "hometown" team, having grown up a UW fan in a Seattle suburb.

"Of course, it makes it sweet," he said. "Are you kidding me?"

Had Locker punched in that final drive with a TD the way he did two years ago in the final seconds in Seattle, BYU would have lamented several chances to put the Huskies away in the fourth quarter. Twice the BYU offense took over in the clinging to a six-point lead, but twice the drives were halted by dropped passes (although they would have been difficult catches).

Sarkisian, who didn't come out for the halftime ceremony honoring the former All-Americans, said poor field position ultimately did in the Huskies.

"I think with all that, BYU did a good job of managing field position," he said. "I know that was something they were focused on coming into the game and it really paid dividends for them."

drew@sltrib.com On Twitter: @drewjay —

BYU 23, Washington 17

R IN SHORT • BYU's defense shuts out Washington in the second half, and the Cougar offense scores just enough to give BYU its fourth-straight win in a season opener.

KEY MOMENT • Washington quarterback Jake Locker's fourth-down pass deep in BYU territory glances off Eathyn Manumaleuna's helmet and falls incomplete.

KEY STATS • Washington starts three drives inside its 7-yard line; Jake Heaps and Riley Nelson both throw for exactly 131 yards for BYU.






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