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BYU's Berry overcomes nervous first half

8/29/2003

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.