9:15 PM ET, September 4, 2004
LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo, UT
PROVO, Utah (AP) -- Notre Dame will have that game of experience it wanted when the Fighting Irish play rival Michigan next week.
The Irish also have a loss.
Brigham Young held off a late push by Notre Dame for a 20-17 victory Saturday night in the season opener for both teams. Matt Berry passed for 167 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown pass and a clutch 37-yard completion in the final minutes to Todd Watkins, after relieving BYU starter John Beck in the second quarter.
The Cougars improved to 4-0 in season openers under coach Gary Crowton and got off to a winning start as they try to break a two-year streak of losing seasons.
"It's so fun to beat Notre Dame just because it's such a storied program," Crowton said. "What this does is gives us momentum going into the season and gives us a chance to get better."
Crowton had a wide grin after winning a tight one.
The Fighting Irish were about to get a final chance with BYU facing a third-and-8 play from its own 25. But Berry, who replaced injured starter John Beck in the second quarter, threw a long pass toward the Notre Dame sideline that Watkins leaped to pull in and give BYU a first down with 1:34 remaining.
Watkins, a junior college transfer making his BYU debut, also caught a 50-yard pass from Beck to set up the Cougars' opening touchdown.
"They doubled him most of the night. He's not only fast and tall, he also goes after the football. That will soften up opposing teams' defense," Crowton said.
Notre Dame's Brady Quinn completed 26 of 47 passes for 265 yards, including a screen pass that Rhema McKnight took 54 yards for a touchdown. Preston Jackson returned an interception 38 yards in the fourth quarter to get the Irish within a field goal, but they had to punt on their last possession and the Cougars didn't give up the ball again.
"Their defensive scheme kept us a little on our heels so we couldn't come off the ball," Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham said. "We couldn't be as effective as we wanted to be."
Berry, BYU's starter until breaking a bone in his hand early last season, completed 15 of 23 passes yards and an interception. He was shaky early in relief of Beck, who left in the second quarter after being leveled on an option. X-rays on Beck were negative for any breaks, but he did not return.
"I was ready when my opportunity came. I made it too interesting at the end, but guys came through. That's why it is a team game," said Berry, who was 15-for-23 with the big interception.
The Cougars prevailed on a night when the most effective ways to move the ball were do anything but run with it. Only 22 of BYU's 285 yards came on the ground. The Cougars' futility was topped by the Fighting Irish, who had 21 carries for 11 yards.
Matt Payne had field goals of 44 and 53 yards for BYU and his punting was clutch, pinning the Irish inside their own 15 all night and handcuffing the already struggling offense. Payne averaged 46.8 yards per kick even with a few short ones he tried to place in the corner.
"This was a big game for us special-teams wise in making them go a long way to get points," Payne said.
BYU also improved to 3-2 in the "Holy War" and avenged last season's 33-14 loss to the Irish in South Bend. BYU, had only four first-quarter touchdowns last season, was the first to score Saturday when Fahu Tahi ran in from 5 yards out. The play was really set up by Watkins, who was double covered and had his legs wrapped up but pulled in a 50-yard pass from Beck anyway.
The Irish didn't score until late in the second quarter when Brady ran the hurry-up offense to get within range for D.J. Fitzpatrick's 21-yard field goal for Notre Dame's first points of the season.
The game was originally scheduled for Oct. 30, but Notre Dame got BYU and several other schools to reschedule so the Irish wouldn't have to face the Wolverines in the opener. Notre Dame has plenty of video to review to see what needs to get better quickly.
"I don't think we were aggressive until we got into our two minute offense," Willingham said. "Our defense after the early part of the game was pretty solid. What we couldn't get going was enough offense to put us in good position."