On a night when points were hard to come by, the San Diego State Aztecs blew a big opportunity Thursday night in the hometown Poinsettia Bowl.
Safety Eric Pinkins plucked a tipped pass out of the air and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown that would have given the Aztecs a 13-0 lead over Brigham Young.
But the play came back because defensive end Everett Beed was whistled for blocking below the waist. San Diego State ended up punting from the BYU 36 and the Cougars marched down for a field goal to pull to 6-3 at halftime.
The Aztecs ended up losing 23-6. BYU Linebacker Kyle Van Noy forced a fumble in the end zone and recovered it for a touchdown, and scored on a 17-yard interception return, both in the fourth quarter.
"I thought blocking below the waist on an interception for a touchdown was the key to the game," SDSU coach Rocky Long said. "I really believe if we had scored that touchdown, the momentum would have been in our favor the rest of the night."
The big plays swung the momentum for the Cougars (8-5) in what had been a tedious defensive struggle. San Diego State (9-4), playing in the Poinsettia 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.
Van Noy scored the game's first TD when he came free and knocked the ball out of Adam Dingwell's hand as he dropped back to pass in the end zone, and recovering it for a 10-6 lead. The play was ruled a fumble, and the call stood after a video review
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 through traffic and into the end zone. Van Noy was selected the game's defensive MVP.
Dingwell finished with five turnovers, including three interceptions. Four of his turnovers were in the fourth quarter.
"They weren't doing anything," Dingwell said. "They're a good defense but ultimately I have to take care of the ball. I feel terrible about the way I played tonight, and I feel horrible sending the seniors out this way. That's not what they deserve."
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 Riley Stephenson at the 1, one at the 2 and another at the 3.
Until Van Noy and Williams scored, the game was a field position struggle.
San Diego State led 6-3 at halftime thanks to Chance Marden's field goals of 27 and 23 yards. Justin Sorensen kicked a 23-yarder for BYU.
James Lark, who started at quarterback for BYU, completed 23 of 42 passes for 244 yards and was intercepted twice.
BYU's Cody Hoffman caught 10 passes for 114 yards and was named offensive MVP.
Dingwell completed 12 of 29 for 144 yards. Adam Muema ran 26 times for 103 yards.