Flashback: In 1995 season finale, Steve Sarkisian gives preview of what was to come

Photo Credit: Brian Winter

The BYU Cougars traveled to Fresno, California to take on the Fresno State Bulldogs in the 1995 season finale. A win would give the Cougars a share of the Western Athletic Conference championship. As meaningful as that was, it was the play of quarterback Steve Sarkisian that had greater ramifications on the future of BYU football.

BYU kicked off to Fresno State to start the game. The Bulldogs had some success moving the ball down the field on a Cougar defense that was with out star linebacker Shay Muirbrook for the first half. He was suspended for shoving a referee near the end of the Utah game the previous week. After a one-yard run up the middle on 3rd and 1, Fresno State took a shot at the end zone. Eddie Sampson and Dermmell Reed were there for BYU to break up the pass. It was the first of three straight incomplete passes to end the drive.

Fresno State came very close to downing the punt at the one-yard line. After the touchback, BYU started its first possession at the 20-yard line. The Cougars wanted to establish the run game, but the first two runs were non-productive. That set up a 3rd and 8. Sarkisian dropped back and found Itula Mili for 13 yards. Two plays later Sarkisian connected with Mike Johnston for a 16 yard gain, but BYU could only gain eight yards on three straight run plays.

The Bulldogs were very feisty on their next drive. They were not going to be denied. Fresno State overcame a 1st and 28 that resulted from a holding penalty, and a sack by BYU's Matt Redden to take an early 6-0 lead on a 20-yard touchdown pass. The extra point was no good.

Jason Cooper returned the ensuing kickoff 43 yards to the BYU 49-yard line. After Hema Heimuli was stopped for no gain on first down, Sarkisian completed four passes on four straight plays. The fourth play was 19 yards to Johnston to get BYU in the end zone on the second play of the second quarter. The extra point was good, and BYU led 7-6.

The Bulldogs were still moving the ball, pretty much, at will. Not only did Fresno State retake the lead with a one-yard touchdown run, the Bulldogs made up for the missed extra point with a two-point conversion.

Mark Atuaia had a big run for BYU on its next series, but it was called back because of a holding penalty. Facing 2nd and 23, back-to-back passes to Mili only picked up 11, so the Cougars were forced to punt the ball back to Fresno State.

Fresno State continued to move the ball on BYU. On the fifth play of the drive, BYU found a way to get some pressure on the Bulldogs quarterback, which forced a bad throw that Reed intercepted.

Reed's interception gave BYU the ball just 40 yards away from the end zone. BYU covered half of that in two plays. Three plays later the ball sat at the Fresno State five-yard line. The Bulldogs dropped BYU's ball carrier for a four-yard loss on 2nd and 4. Then on 3rd and 8, rather than throw the ball away, Sarkisian took a sack--a huge sack. It was a loss of 15. The Cougars had to settle for a 41-yard field goal with 1:45 to play in the half to cut the lead to 14-10.

Fresno State then ran out the clock to head to the locker room. Sarkisian completed 10 of 12 passes for 122 yards and 1 touchdown in the first half, which was impressive, but would pale in comparison to what he was about to do in the second half.

BYU received the ball to start half number two. Atuaia picked up six yards on back-to-back plays for BYU, first a catch and then a run, to move the chains. A 16-yard pass to K.O. Kealaluhi over came a five-yard sack from the play before, and got BYU another first down. Two plays later, a Fresno State defender leapt over the center before the snap and hit knocked down Sarkisian. Following that 15-yard penalty, Sarkisian found Kealaluhi again for a 30-yard touchdown.

That put BYU back on top 17-14.

Fresno State drove out to midfield on its next possession. Under pressure, the Bulldog quarterback got rid of the ball by dumping it off to a running back. He appeared to have a lot of green grass, but cornerback Tim McTyer came up and made a great open-field tackle for a one-yard loss. Two plays later, Fresno State had a man open behind everybody, but the quarterback overthrew him. The Bulldogs had to punt.

Heimuli became BYU's go-to back on the next series. He carried the ball the first two plays, and caught a pass out of the backfield on the third. He had a second reception later in the drive. Passes of 24 yards to Cooper, and 21 yards to Kealaluhi were the chunk plays on the drive. On 2nd and Goal from the five, Sarkisian found Kaipo McGuire for the score.

That made 17 straight points scored by BYU, and gave the Cougars a 24-14 lead. The double-digit lead would not last long.

Fresno State completed a 16-yard pass on first down, and BYU gave the Bulldogs an extra 15 yards on a facemask penalty. The next play was a 43-yard bomb for a touchdown. Just like that it was a 24-21 game.

Sakisian and Co. were not phased by Fresno's quick strike. Kealaluhi made a diving catch on 3rd and 14 to pick up the first down. Then, Heimuli and Johnston took turns making plays. Heimuli caught a seven-yard pass, followed by Johnston making a 14-yard grab; Heimuli ran for 13 yards, and Johnston made another 14-yard catch. After Sarkisian's final incomplete pass of the game, Heimuli caught another pass. He slipped and fell as he turned up field, otherwise he would have scored a touchdown. He had a blocker in front of him as well as nothing but green grass.

That ended the third quarter. Heimuli got his touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter on an eight-yard run. BYU's lead was back to 10.

The Bulldogs weren't going to go without a fight. Muirbrook made a tackle for loss to start the drive, and Fresno State's quarterback had to leave the field for one play because he didn't get up after a pass play. Neither of those plays mattered, as Fresno State drove down and scored a touchdown for the second drive in a row. The one-yard run made it 31-28 with 10:15 to play.

Like a machine, BYU methodically moved the ball down the field. Seven different players carried or caught the ball. Sarkisian capped off the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run. It was the fourth touchdown on the night he was responsible for.

There was now less than six and a half minutes to play. Trailing by two scores, the Bulldogs were starting to feel the pressure. Just as they had all night, the Bulldogs were able to move quickly into BYU territory. However, Jaime Cook put an end to Fresno State's hopes by intercepting the ball.

BYU took over at its own 28-yard line. All BYU wanted to do was run out the clock, but a 24-yard pass to Johnston on 4th and 2 put BYU in scoring position. Three plays later, Heimuli went airborne to finish his Cougar career with a one-yard touchdown run.

That made it 45-28 with 38 seconds to play. All five of BYU's second half drives ended in touchdowns.

Ed Lamb sacked the Fresno State quarterback on the final play of the game.

Sarkisian set a new NCAA record for completion percentage in a game (minimum 30 attempts) with a 91.2 percent completion rate. The old record was 87.2 percent.

PLAY OF THE GAME: Jaime Cook's interception. The game had turned into a shootout. Cook's interception came at the perfect time to seal the win for BYU.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: Steve Sarkisian--31 of 34, 399 yards, 3 TD, 0 Int; 4 rush, -13 yards, 1 TD

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