Clearly, the defining moment of the Brigham Young Cougars’ 2011 football season came in game five when quarterback Riley Nelson came off the bench and led an 11-point second half comeback win over Utah State. Thirty years ago, BYU had its defining moment in game five as well.
The 1982 season started well enough with a 27-0 win in a tune up with UNLV. A week later, the Cougars were in Athens, Georgia taking on the 6th ranked Georgia Bulldogs. In a sloppy game, Georgia narrowly edged BYU, 17-14. Despite the loss, the way the Cougars hung with one of the nation’s elite teams on the road gave reason to believe this team would be pretty good.
That optimism was lost after game three. In the home opener, BYU lost to Air Force for the first time in school history. It was the first time since game three of 1975 that BYU had lost two consecutive games in the same season. The Cougs bounced back a week later with a 51-3 win, but it was just lowly UTEP.
Four weeks into the season, BYU was 2-2. There were still lots of questions about how good this team was. The two wins had come against teams that would finish the season a combined 5-18 (UTEP: 2-10, UNLV: 3-8). Against the two quality opponents, BYU had found a way to lose. The next game would make or break the season.
New Mexico was a perfect 4-0 and in the drivers seat for the Holiday Bowl. This Lobos squad was destined to become the best in school history. The game would be played in Albuquerque.
At halftime, BYU trailed 12-7. A loss to New Mexico would make it nearly impossible for BYU to win its seventh consecutive WAC championship and play in its fifth straight Holiday Bowl. With these streaks on the line, the Cougars responded in the third quarter.
The defense forced four turnovers and scored a safety. The offense exploded for 24 points of their own, highlighted by two Casey Tiumalu touchdown runs. BYU added a touchdown in the fourth quarter to provide the final 40-12 margin. It was the only time New Mexico lost that season.
The four turnovers and 26 unanswered points in the third quarter was the defining moment of the season. BYU went on to win all but one game the rest of the year. The Cougars were perfect the rest of the season in conference games. They won the WAC and returned to the Holiday Bowl.
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