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Provo • Most of the crowd stayed to the bitter end despite a relentless, chilling wind and the fact that the Cougars were beating a hapless, one-win Mountain West Conference opponent by 33 points like all those many times before. Some boos even rang out in the final few minutes, mostly directed at officials who struggled almost as much as the visiting team.
Yup, things have returned to normal at LaVell Edwards Stadium in perhaps the most abnormal season in coach Bronco Mendenhall's six-year tenure just in time for 6-5 BYU to travel 35 miles north for that game the coach told his players not to talk about until Monday.
On Saturday, the Cougars kept their momentum going, pounding New Mexico 40-7 in front of 59,077 to pick up their fourth-straight win, become bowl eligible and hold on to the swagger they will surely need if they hope to stay with Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"We are peaking at the right time," said quarterback Jake Heaps.
BYU's bowl destination is still unknown, but the Cougars can at least tie for second place in the MWC with a win at Utah, an achievement even Mendenhall wasn't feeling good about just two months ago.
"There was a time this season that I wasn't sure [bowl eligibility] was going to happen," he said. "It seemed pretty daunting to be able to recover our team. It has taken a lot of work, a lot of effort and a lot of heart and a lot of prayer, and a lot of … leadership from our coaches but also our players."
Adding to the 1-10 Lobos' miserable season in what was the last meeting between the MWC foes in the foreseeable future, the Cougars have now outscored their past three opponents 144-24 and forced 10 turnovers in that stretch. The Lobos had four of those, including two on their first two possessions that led to a quick 10-0 BYU lead and pretty much ensured there would be no upset.
"If I could have scripted it, it would [have been] like that," Mendenhall said.
The Cougars didn't have a turnover in rolling up 494 yards and holding the Lobos to 259.
"I think our team took another step forward today, handling another unique situation with a team coming in that was struggling and knowing that there was bowl eligibility on the line," said Mendenhall, who told reporters in his postgame news conference that they were free to ask his players about the upcoming Utah game but probably wouldn't get any answers.
After all, Saturday's blowout left little to reminisce about, except for 13 seniors who played their final home games.
"Our experience has been a dream come true," said senior Andrew Rich, whose final game included two interceptions, one that thwarted a New Mexico scoring opportunity in his own end zone and another that he nearly returned for six.
He got to the 1-yard line, but the long return was nullified by a personal foul with 3:57 remaining in the game, and the boo-birds came out.
Speaking of personal fouls and the like, the rain and snow held off the entire game, but the yellow hankies didn't. One of the least-penalized teams in the country, the Cougars were hit 14 times for 141 yards, both season highs.
"I think there were penalty flags flying all over the place, and maybe [BYU] not handling the emotion" well on Senior Day," Mendenhall said. "I don't have a theory [for the sloppiness] right now."
The Cougars weren't especially crisp offensively, either, converting on just 6 of 13 third-down attempts. Heaps was 18 of 32 for 231 yards but missed a few open receivers. And a few balls were dropped.
Freshman Josh Quezada rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown part of the Cougars' 270 yards on the ground.
Defensively, BYU was hurt by the scrambling ability of New Mexico's freshman quarterback, Stump Godfrey, but otherwise maintained the same level of play it started showing when Mendenhall took over the defense after the team fell to 1-4 with a loss at Utah State.
"I think we played a good football game," he said.