SAN DIEGO — The Poinsettia Bowl was ponderous, even boring, until Brigham Young linebacker Kyle Van Noy took over.
Van Noy scored on a fumble recovery in the end zone and then on an interception return to lead Brigham Young to a 23-6 victory over San Diego State on Thursday night.
“Turnovers were huge for us,” said Van Noy, who had two of BYU’s five takeaways. “I think that when we got that first turnover, I think that changed the momentum of the game.”
With San Diego State pinned on its 3 thanks to terrific punt coverage by BYU, Adam Dingwell dropped back to pass in the end zone.
Van Noy broke free from the outside and knocked the ball out of Dingwell’s hand and jumped on the fumble for the game’s first TD.
The play was upheld after video review.
“I wouldn’t make those plays if all 11 guys weren’t doing what they were doing,” Van Noy said. “The ball just happened to land in my lap.”
Dingwell fumbled the snap on SDSU’s next play from scrimmage and it was recovered by Jordan Johnson at the 14. Jamaal Williams scored on a run up the middle on the next play, BYU’s second TD in 17 seconds.
With 6:09 left, Van Noy intercepted Dingwell’s pass and weaved 17 yards through traffic and into the end zone. Van Noy was selected the game’s defensive MVP.
Del Norte High graduate and BYU wide receiver Cody Hoffman was named offensive MVP for the game, catching 10 passes for 114 yards.
Hoffman was a reliable target for Cougars quarterback James Lark when the team needed offensive production. Seven of his 10 catches resulted in BYU first downs, and five went for 10 yards or longer.
He played an integral part of the Cougars’ lone scoring drive of the first half, catching three passes for 18 yards (two first first downs) as time wound down in the second quarter. Justin Sorenson’s 23-yard field goal trimmed BYU’s deficit to 6-3 at the half.
Hoffman hauled in a 30-yard pass to open up the fourth quarter, his longest play from scrimmage. However, he could not contain a pass from Lark on third-and-goal from the San Diego State 4-yard line, and Aztecs safety King Holder intercepted it. Van Noy’s fumble recovery touchdown came on the very next play.
The redshirt junior finished his season with 100 catches for 1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The Cougars (8-5) won for the sixth straight time against SDSU, a former rival from the Western Athletic and Mountain West conferences. BYU went independent after the 2010 season, when it beat SDSU thanks to a controversial fumble. BYU was making its 12th bowl appearance in San Diego. The first 11 were in the Holiday Bowl, big brother to the Poinsettia Bowl.
San Diego State (9-4), playing in the hometown bowl for the second time in three years, missed the chance for its first 10-win season since 1977 and had its seven-game winning streak snapped.
As big as the defensive plays were for the Cougars, their punt unit came up huge in pinning down the Aztecs four times in the second half. They downed two punts by senior Riley Stephenson at the 1, one at the 2 and another at the 3. They were among the six punts inside the 20.
Stephenson “changed the game,” Mendenhall said. “And he could have easily been the MVP.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.