After turnovers on all three of its third-quarter drives, East Carolina looked done — trailing by 17 points at Brigham Young.
But never count the Pirates out. They’d been behind before, rallying to defeat SMU a week ago.
East Carolina’s backup quarterback Blake Kemp led the comeback effort, completing 28 of 36 passes for 370 yards and two touchdowns, to tie the score with minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
But Cougars quarterback Tanner Magnum returned from an injury to lead a 10-play, 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter, and BYU (4-2) knocked off East Carolina (3-3), 45-38, Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
“I was really proud of our kids. I was proud of the way we hung in there even at tough times,” East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. “It was a great game.
“You learn a lot about your ball club every game. That was not an easy task,” McNeill said.
McNeill knew the obstacles his team must overcome before the game:
Distance: It was the Pirates’ second farthest regular-season trip West in program history. (The Pirates visited the University of Washington in 1993.)
Altitude: The game at BYU is 4,649 feet above sea level.
Height: BYU’s starting receivers Mitch Mathews is 6-foot-6 and Terenn Houk is 6-foot-5.
The three second-half turnovers only added to that hurdle, as the combination was too much to overcome.
“You never surrender. That’s not even in our vocabulary,” McNeill said. “When mistakes happen you learn to play the next play. I was proud of them tonight.”
Mangum threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns. He left with an injury late in the third quarter, before returning to the lineup for the final BYU drive.
“When you’re in the middle of a game you want to do all you can to keep playing and help your team win, even when you’re hurt,” Magnum said. “When it came down to the last drive, I couldn’t stay on the sidelines any longer.”
Running back Algernon Brown scored four touchdowns, including the winning 9-yard run with 19 seconds left. He rushed for 134 yards on 24 carries.
Kemp entered with 2 minutes, 14 seconds left in the second quarter and completed his first four passes. His 1-yard touchdown toss to Trevon Brown with six seconds remaining closed the BYU lead to 28-21.
Kemp threw another touchdown pass, a 7-yard quick-hitter to Isaiah Jones in the fourth quarter, to bring East Carolina to within three at 38-35. Kemp also led a long scoring drive to open the fourth quarter.
The Pirates tied the score on Davis Plowman’s 34-yard field goal with 4:01 remaining.
James Summers earned the start at quarterback for the Pirates and got his squad off to a hot start. His 34-yard, first-quarter scamper put East Carolina up 7-0 early.
Summers, who rushed for 70 yards in the first half and scored a rushing touchdown for the third consecutive game, never got the air attack going for the Pirates.
Shortly thereafter, East Carolina’s Trevian Hicks blocked a BYU punt and Yiannis Bowden scooped up a loose ball for another touchdown. The Pirates were quickly up 14-0.
But BYU rallied for 28 unanswered points.
Mangum threw for 254 yards and three touchdowns — one to Mathews and another to Houk — in the first half to lead the Cougars.
BYU’s Bronson Kaufusi blocked a punt by East Carolina’s Worth Gregory, which set up Algernon Brown’s 1-yard touchdown. Brown added his third touchdown of the night on a 53-yard rush on BYU’s opening drive of the third quarter.