Minutes after No. 23 Brigham Young and San Diego State had played to an improbable 52-52 tie in what figured to be the Western Athletic Conference’s championship game Saturday night, Holiday Bowl officials visited the BYU locker room and extended an invitation.
President Morris Sievert made a short speech, BYU Coach LaVell Edwards accepted on behalf of his team and the Cougars celebrated by dumping orange juice on each other and whooping.
One day later, the WAC issued a hasty press release: Not so fast.
After checking its tie-breaking procedures, WAC officials determined that, although it is highly unlikely, BYU could lose the Holiday Bowl berth to San Diego State.
“I was surprised after the game when (Holiday Bowl officials) told us we were in,” said Edwards, who apparently was the only person to realize Saturday’s tie didn’t guarantee the Cougars a Holiday Bowl bid. “I kept asking them, ‘Are you sure? Are you sure?’ They assured me they were. I thought we had to either beat or tie Utah (Saturday).”
Add the premature Holiday Bowl invitation as just one more item to a wild night of football that will not soon be forgotten.
It was the highest-scoring tie game in NCAA history, surpassing the 48-48 deadlock played by San Jose State and Utah State on Sept. 8, 1979.
The two teams combined for 1,462 yards of total offense, 1,167 passing yards and 67 first downs. San Diego State averaged 8.8 yards per play and BYU averaged 8.6. San Diego State sophomore quarterback David Lowery set a San Diego State record with 568 yards passing, and the Aztec defense allowed a school-record 599 yards passing.
It is the second consecutive season in which the San Diego State defense has allowed BYU quarterback Ty Detmer to surpass an Aztec record. Last season, Detmer passed for 514 yards during a 62-34 BYU victory.
“I kept reminding myself going home that we didn’t win,” Edwards said. “We tied.”
But despite the broken hearts that cluttered the Aztec locker room, despite the tears shed by Lowery on the San Diego State sideline after the game, it turns out that the Aztecs (8-2-1, 6-1-1) are not yet eliminated from the Holiday Bowl. If Brigham Young (7-3-1, 6-0-1) loses at home to Utah Saturday, and if Air Force (8-3, 5-2) loses at Hawaii Saturday, San Diego State and BYU will tie for first.
And then WAC tie-breaking procedures are:
--Head-to-head competition. BYU and SDSU tied.
--How the teams fared against the rest of the conference, in order of final standing. This is where it gets tricky. Although Air Force and Utah would be tied for third, WAC procedure dictates that there is no tie-breaker for any place other than first, so BYU and San Diego State would compare how they did against both Air Force and Utah.
Because BYU defeated Air Force and would have lost to Utah, and because San Diego State defeated Utah but lost to Air Force, the two would remain tied.
--If it gets this far, the WAC dictates that the Holiday Bowl bid goes to the team with the longest absence from the game. BYU was there last season. San Diego State has not gone since 1976. So the Aztecs would go.
Until Joe Kearney, WAC commissioner, and Jeff Hurd, WAC associate commissioner, double-checked all of the tie-breaker procedures Sunday morning, everyone involved thought the tie clinched the title for BYU.
“Late (Saturday) night, I called the WAC people and they told me it was BYU,” said Bruce Binkowski, Holiday Bowl media relations director. “BYU officials said they had checked with the conference office, and the conference had it that way. (The Cougars) were under the impression they were conference champions. They were really fired up.”
Said Hurd: “Unfortunately, most people interpreted it this way--myself included.”
Edwards said he has never seen anything like the game or the bowl mix-up.
“Not really,” he said. “I haven’t talked to the kids yet. I’m sure it will be a disappointment for them. They were excited when they found out they were going to the Holiday Bowl.”
Regarding the game, Edwards said: “I have never been involved in anything like that before. All those home runs they threw. It was like pitching a five-hitter but all five hits were home runs.”
San Diego State threw touchdown passes of 75, 80, 79 and 47 yards.
The Aztecs blew a 45-17 lead in the game’s final 21:06.
BYU scored the tying touchdown with 30 seconds to play, and Edwards elected to go for the tie. Back-up kicker Keith Lever’s conversion was good.
Edwards said he had planned before the game to go for the tie if the situation occurred.
“I didn’t want to run the risk (of losing),” Edwards said. “If we tie, all we have to do is beat or tie Utah to be champions. If we go for two and miss, there’s no tomorrow. There’s no other option.”
San Diego State Coach Al Luginbill, who went for a two-point conversion near the end of a 52-51 loss at Wyoming a year ago, said he didn’t blame Edwards.
“Obviously, we would have liked to have had a chance to defend (a two-point conversion),” Luginbill said. “But if you put yourself in LaVell’s situation, you’ve got to do what is best to get you to your ultimate goal. I’m not going to be critical of it.”
So the WAC champion will go to the Holiday Bowl, and the runner-up will play Tulsa in the Freedom Bowl. But it will take a week longer than expected to determine which school goes where.