At the end of Thursday's San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, BYU junior wide receiver Cody Hoffman received the 2012 Offensive Player of the Game award. Although Hoffman had 10 catches for 114 yards, it would've been easy to argue that someone else deserved that honor:
Cougar junior linebacker Kyle Van Noy.
Van Noy proved to be BYU's best offensive weapon as he scored two of the three Cougar touchdowns — one on a fumble recovery and one on an interception return — to pace BYU to a 23-6 victory over San Diego State.
"The thing that I was most passionate about was that the team would play in a manner that was reflective of how hard they had worked all season," said Cougar head coach Bronco Mendenhall. "From an offensive perspective they battled hard and did what they needed to do to give us a chance, the punting game did the same which has been instrumental all year and defensively they came and helped us do what they needed to do to win the game."
Van Noy — who was named the Defensive Player of the Game — enjoyed one of the best performances of his impressive career as he tallied eight tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for a loss, forced and recovered the fumble, intercepted a pass and blocked a kick.
When the game was on the line, Van Noy took his game to another level.
The game-changing play came early in the fourth quarter with the Cougar trailing 6-3. The BYU offense had driven inside the Aztec 5-yard line but on third-and-goal, Hoffman couldn't corral a pass from Cougar senior quarterback James Lark and the ball popped up to SDSU sophomore defensive back King Holder for what could have been a crushing interception.
Instead, on the first Aztec offensive play, Van Noy flew around the right side of the San Diego State offensive line and stripped the ball from Aztec sophomore quarterback Adam Dingwell just as he started to throw.
"It goes back to the sideline where we were talking as a unit that someone needed to step up and cause a turnover," Van Noy said. "Coach always calls 90 percent of the right plays and I just happened to get lucky and make the play. We had a blitz going on and I was able to come up with the ball."
Van Noy fell on the ball for the touchdown — a ruling that was upheld after video review — and the Cougars had their first lead of the game.
The next few plays proved to be even more beneficial for BYU as SDSU, after a poor kickoff return, fumbled the snap and Cougar sophomore defensive back Jordan Johnson recovered.
It only took one play for BYU to extend the lead as Cougar freshman running back Jamaal Williams blasted through a couple of tackles up the middle and scored from 14 yards out.
Facing a 16-6 deficit after BYU missed the extra point, the Aztecs had to abandon the power run game and try to rally through the air. That, however, proved just as disastrous.
First San Diego State went three-and-out, then on the first two plays of its next possession Dingwell had to get rid of the ball quickly as Van Noy put the pressure on.
On third down, the Cougars elected to drop Van Noy into coverage and rush just three. The BYU defense got through the tiring Aztec line and forced another hurried throw, this one going right to Van Noy.
"It is remarkable that he caught the ball," Mendenhall joked. "He's not known for having the best hands."
"I did play offense," Van Noy fired back.
"We moved you to defense because you couldn't catch the ball," Mendenhall answered.
Van Noy did make the catch, then cut back across the field to complete the 17-yard return to the end zone.
"I was more impressed with what he did after he caught it," Hoffman said of the return.
"I just happened to be in the spot at the right time and caught the ball," Van Noy added. "I just tried to make a play. Then I ended up in the end zone and didn't know what to do."
Thanks to the turnovers, BYU turned a three-point deficit into a 23-6 advantage in just six minutes of game time.
Hoffman said he would've liked to see the offense be the one to put the points on the board but that the team will take them any way they can get them.
"It was definitely frustrating to come up short," he said. "But at the same time we have confidence in our defense and know they are going to keep the other team out of the end zone. If we keep working hard and working on the fundamental things, then we knew we could get in the end zone.."
While those plays turned the tide completely in BYU's favor, San Diego State head coach Rocky Long pointed to an earlier interception as the key moment of the game.
With his Aztecs up 6-0 midway through the second quarter, Cougar senior quarterback Riley Nelson threw a pass to sophomore wide receiver Ross Apo that got knocked into the air.
SDSU junior defensive back Eric Pinkins snatched the ball and raced the other direction, eventually reaching the end zone.
Instead of the Aztecs enjoying a 13-0 lead, however, the return was nullified by an illegal block. Even though San Diego State still had good field position, the BYU defense now had a chance.
"We've been in those situations plenty of times this year," said Cougar senior linebacker Brandon Ogletree. "It's one of those things that as players on defense we look around and say it's time to make a play and do what we do.
"We practice those situations all the time. We're prepared for them and I think a big thing is that we have all the confidence in the world when we go on the field that they aren't going to move the ball."
With the help of an Aztec holding penalty, BYU stuffed SDSU and forced a punt, keeping the score close.
"I believe that if would have scored a touchdown at that time, we would've been in the lead the rest of the night," Long said.
BYU proceeded to march down the field with its best offensive drive of the game and scored a 23-yard field goal by junior kicker Justin Sorensen as the half expired.
The Cougars had to feel fortunate to trail by only three points, since the Aztecs had outgained BYU by 49 yards and had more scoring opportunities during the opening two quarters.
Neither team could add anything to the scoreboard in the third quarter but the Cougars began consistently winning the field position battle.
Much of the credit for that went to BYU senior punter Riley Stephenson, who pinned the Aztecs inside the 20-yard line six times.
"As the nature of the game started to shift, we became more aggressive," Mendenhall said. "You can do that when the situation of the game is determining whether they have to run or throw."
Lark, who played all but four plays at quarterback, finished going 23-of-42 for 244 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns.
In the end, the team did enough to get the victory and Mendenhall said it was a fitting end to the year.
"The bowl game played out exactly as the season played out," Mendenhall said. "That was enough to win eight games and a bowl game and I'm proud of them for that."