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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- It was a tale of two halves as BYU scored 38 points in the second half to defeat Air Force, 41-24, on Saturday at Falcon Stadium. With the win, the Cougars take sole possession of second place in the Mountain West Conference at 3-1 and 4-4 overall.
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BYU Coach Gary Crowton felt the team had a great overall game.
"Anyway we can get a win we're happy," Crowton said. "It was the first time this season we had a good combination of running and passing. Our defense just battled and they did a great job."
The 38 points were the most second half points scored by BYU in the Gary Crowton era.
After struggling in the first half, the Cougars finished with 527 yards of total offense, averaging 7.4 yards per play. John Beck completed 20 of 31 pass attempts for 319 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Dennis Pitta's only two catches were for touchdowns, the first giving BYU the lead for good.
Crowton was pleased with Beck's performance, especially his second half play.
"He's throwing to the right guy," Crowton added. "He seemed to be a little tentative in the first half so I told him to just have fun and be aggressive and he did it."
Todd Watkins was the top receiver of the day, catching six balls for 153 yards and one touchdown. Austin Collie, the nation's top freshman receiver, finished with six catches for 82 yards and one touchdown.
Curtis Brown led a rushing attack that racked-up 173 yards, finishing with 128 of his own on 22 carries. It was his third 100-yard game of the season, all coming in the last four games. The Cougars improved to 18-1 when BYU rushes over 150 yards.
Aside from allowing a few big plays, the defense played solid all game. Mark Staffieri led the way with 10 tackles while Aaron Francisco, Matt Bauman, and Cameron Jenson each had nine. Brady Poppinga had one sack and another tackle for loss and Shaun Nua had two sacks.
Air Force picked up 244 yards on the ground on 47 attempts. Darnell Stephens carried the ball 10 times for 61 yards and two touchdowns. Falcon quarterback Shaun Carney finished 10-for-22, 150 yards and one touchdown.
The Cougars struck first with 9:28 left in the first quarter on a 23-yard Matt Payne field goal. A 26-yard pass from Beck to Collie put the ball on the Air Force two but BYU was unable to find the end zone, having to settle for the field goal. Payne is now 10-for-10 on field goals longer than 40 yards, including 4-for-4 from 50 yards or more.
Air Force would not stay behind for long. After a Falcon punt, Beck threw a pass behind Daniel Coats that was intercepted by Bobby Giannini of Air Force. On the Falcon's first play, Darnell Stephens scored on an impressive 29-yard run for the touchdown, avoiding a swarm of Cougar defenders and changing directions to the opposite side of the field to beat the rest of the BYU defense.
The 7-3 lead was not enough for the Falcons, as they added a field goal moments later after recovering a fumble caused by a bad handoff between Beck and Brown on the BYU 40. Brendan Greenaway hit a 48-yarder to put Air Force up 10-3.
The Cougars were a completely different team in the second half, scoring three touchdowns in the third quarter. The first came just 33 seconds after the kickoff, when Beck hit Watkins on a perfectly timed pass for a 70-yard touchdown, tying the score at 10.
"The momentum started to build after that big play to Watkins and we ended up having a pretty good game against a pretty good football team," Crowton said.
The big play put a fire under the offense, as BYU moved the ball almost at will throughout the second half. On the next drive, Beck took the Cougars into the end zone again with 6:29 to go in the third when he hit Dennis Pitta for an 11-yard touchdown pass to cap a four play 67 yard drive, giving BYU its first lead of the game at 17-10. Brown ran twice for 18 yards and Beck hit Fahu Tahi for 38 yards, setting up the touchdown.
The Cougars maintained the scoring barrage less than two minutes later when Gary Lovely recovered a blocked punt and took the ball eight yards into the end zone to extend the lead to 24-10.
Air Force continued to struggle late in the third quarter, having to punt on its next possession. This time, Donny Heaton avoided the BYU blitz and unleashed a 77-yard punt that went into the end zone for a touchback.
The long punt was not enough to keep BYU from moving the ball as the Cougars put together an eight play, 80 yard drive that ended with Austin Collie hauling in a 14-yard pass from Beck for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. The extra point by Payne tied him with Luke Staley for second all-time on the BYU scoring list with 290.
With the Cougars up 31-10, it appeared that Air Force was completely out of the game, but Carney would not let the Falcons go out quietly. He engineered a four play, 80-yard drive that included a 42-yard run by Kendrick and ended on a 26-yard pass to Greg Kirkwood, only his third reception of the season.
BYU answered the Falcon score with another Payne field goal, this one from 53-yards out with 11:09 remaining in the game. The field goal gave Payne 10 points in the game and 293 for his career, supplanting Staley for second all-time. He finished the game with 11 points and 294 for his career.
Down 34-17, Air Force cut into the lead again on another 80-yard drive that ended with Stephens scoring his second touchdown of the day on a seven-yard run. The point after cut the Cougar lead to 34-24.
The Falcon kickoff was mishandled by BYU and recovered by Air Force. A catching interference penalty gave the ball back the Cougars who again moved down the field. The drive appeared to be over after three plays but Payne made another big play, this time running the ball 20 yards for a first down. Five plays later and Beck found Pitta in the end zone for the second time of the day, this time on a fourth and goal play from the Air Force one.
With the win, BYU stands at 4-4 overall and 3-1 in the MWC. The Cougars will have a bye this coming week and will be back in action against San Diego State, Saturday, Nov. 6 at LaVell Edwards Stadium.