SAN DIEGO -- Defense has been BYU's calling card all season. Against San Diego State, the Cougars' defense helped ring up another win with a dominating fourth quarter.
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy's recovered a fumble in the end zone and returned an interception in the end zone -- both in the fourth quarter --allowing the Cougars to rally for a 23-6 victory in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl before an announced crowd of 38,442 at Qualcomm Stadium on Thursday night.
The win was BYU's sixth straight over San Diego State and snapped the Aztecs' seven-game winning streak.
Van Noy forced a fumble in the end zone and recovered it with 12:32 to play after knocking the ball out of the hand of San Diego State quarterback Adam Dingwell for a 10-6 BYU lead.
It was the first of four turnovers in the fourth quarter for San Diego State (9-4) and its fifth overall. Dingwell threw three interceptions and the Aztecs lost two fumbles.
Van Noy recovered the fumble one play after BYU (8-5), which trailed 6-3 entering the fourth quarter, had missed a chance to take the lead or at least tie the score. A pass from BYU quarterback James Lark bounced off the hands off wide receiver Cody Hoffman and landed in the hands of King Holder at the goal line before the defensive back went down at his own 3.
But that's when the wheels came off the Aztecs' wagon.
After Van Noy's play gave BYU the lead, San Diego State turned it over on its next play from scrimmage. Dingwell fumbled the snap and defensive back Jordan Johnson recovered it at the Aztecs 14.
On the next play, BYU freshman running back Jamaal Williams scooted into the end zone for a 16-6 lead with 12:15 remaining. The point-after kick failed
Van Noy scored on a 17-yard interception return with 6:09 left for the final score.
BYU entered the contest ranked third in overall defense at 266.3 yards per game. It ranked second in rushing defense, limiting opponents to a paltry 84.25 yard per game.
But San Diego State managed that much in one half, running for 85 of its 108 yards in offense. BYU finished the half with 116 yards overall, but was held to 28 on the ground.
However, the Cougars kept the Aztecs out of the end zone and their defense delivered when they needed it most.
The Aztecs were able to march deep into Cougars territory twice in the first half, but came away with field goals on both occasions. On their second possession, San Diego State had first-and-10 at the BYU 12. But the drive stalled at the Cougars' 10 as BYU defensive back Craig Bills drilled SDSU wide receiver Colin Lockett, who dropped a pass from Dingwell at the goal line.
The Aztecs settled for a 27-yard field goal by Chance Marden for a 3-0 with 8:31 remaining in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, SDSU had a first and goal at the BYU 10, but again failed to reach the end zone. Marden added a 23-yarder with 10:46 left in the quarter for a 6-0 advantage.
San Diego State had a touchdown called back late in the half when defensive back Eric Pinkins picked off a pass by Lark and returned it for a score. However, it was nullified by an illegal block penalty. The Aztecs gained possession at the BYU 29, but couldn't take advantage of it.
BYU got on the board just before intermission. A 38-yard completion from Lark to tight end Devin Mahina gave the Cougars first and goal at the SDSU 6 with nine seconds remaining. Lark followed with an incomplete pass in the end zone. However, Justin Sorensen booted a 23-yard field goal to end the half, allowing BYU to cut the lead to 6-3.
NOTES: The Cougars hold a UPDATE 27-7-1 lead over the Aztecs in the series. ... BYU was playing in its eighth consecutive bowl game. It has won 4 OR 5 in a row. ... San Diego State is one of only two schools in California to appear in three consecutive bowl games. Stanford is the other one. ... BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall served as defensive coordinator for San Diego State's Rocky Long from 1998-2002 when the latter was head coach at New Mexico.