9:30 PM ET, August 28, 2003
LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo, UT
PROVO, Utah (AP) -- Matt Berry got his opening game anxiety out of the way early.
Berry threw an interception to end Brigham Young's first series, then erased a sloppy first half with a strong third and fourth quarter to lead BYU past Georgia Tech 24-13 Thursday night.
"You're always nervous the first half. That's not the way you want to start the season," said Berry, who threw for 276 yards and three touchdowns in the season-opening win. "We just needed to find our rhythm."
Berry was shaky in the first half, but settled down in the second half and picked apart the Yellow Jackets with a series of short passes and screens that the Cougars were able to spring for bigger gains.
"We try and mix it up -- go deep, go short, go medium. That really helped us out," Berry said.
Berry, who started the final six games last season as a freshman, finished 31-for-46 with one interception in front of former BYU star Steve Young, whose jersey was retired at halftime. Berry, who wears Young's No. 8, didn't exactly look like Young but was able to ignite the offense in the second half and hold off the Yellow Jackets.
Tech, which had won its last four season openers, led 13-7 at halftime thanks to two field goals by Dan Burnett and a blocked punt that was returned by for a touchdown, but the offense never really got going under freshman quarterback Reggie Ball.
Ball was 15-for-24 for 147 yards with an interception. He also had five carries for 39 yards for the Yellow Jackets, who were outgained by BYU 362-243 and had four turnovers.
"I just need to stay relaxed. I thought I would be kind of nervous, but I was actually anxious," Ball said.
Tech fell apart early in the third quarter and never recovered.
"They started wearing us down in the first half. We couldn't get off the field," Tech coach Chan Gailey said. "When we needed to stay on the field we couldn't."
The biggest negative for BYU was penalties. The Cougars were called 16 times for 132 yards.
"I wasn't happy with the penalties, but other than that, I'm happy with the win," BYU coach Gary Crowton said. "I was happy with the effort. We have to move forward from here."
A BYU drive that failed to score but ate up nearly 10 minutes near the end of the second quarter started the slide for Tech. After trailing at halftime, BYU regained the lead in the opening series of the third quarter when Berry rolled to his left, waited and threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Coats to cap a seven-play, 80-yard drive with 11:12 left.
Coats, a redshirt freshman playing his first college game, also caught Berry's first TD pass in the first quarter that put the Cougars up 7-3.
"My first play I was scared out of my mind. But sitting here, things went perfectly for me," said Coats, who had six catches for 93 yards and the two touchdowns in his college debut. "Coach talked to me before the game and said he would be looking for me a lot today. I just tried to jump to the challenge."
On the kickoff after Coats' second score, Tech's Kenny Scott fielded the ball in the end zone and started to take a knee, but changed his mind and tried for a return. It was a bad choice for Scott, who blocked a punt in the first half that was returned for a touchdown. He was stopped at the 5-yard line and the Yellow Jackets were forced to punt, setting up BYU at the Tech 43.
Berry took advantage of the short field and from the 14 lofted a pass to Toby Christensen, who made a diving grab in the corner of the end zone for another touchdown to make it 21-13.
Georgia Tech took a 13-7 lead in the second quarter when Scott blocked Matt Payne's punt at the 18 and Nathan Burton scooped it up and ran untouched for the score early in the second quarter.
The touchdown appeared to wake up the BYU offense. Berry led the Cougars on a drive that ate up 9:47 and made it to the Tech 11-yard line, but ended with Payne's 28-yard field goal attempt going wide to the right.
Payne was good from 24 yards out with 2:32 left in the game.
BYU running back Marcus Whalen injured his knee on the second play of the Cougars' opening series and did not return.
Crowton promised to give Berry's backup, freshman John Beck a series and the result was a disaster. The Cougars opened the second-quarter drive on the Tech 46, but lost a combined 25 yards when Beck was sacked and fumbled on the first two plays. Beck was intercepted on third down and Berry played the rest of the game.
Berry said he will be comfortable the next time Beck comes in early in the game because the Cougars need experience at quarterback.
"We all come out like that sometimes," Berry said of his teammate.