Such a match looked distinctly possible until the Cougars decided to stop comparing good-grooming habits with their opponents and start hunkering down. On the fourth play of the third quarter, Vai Sikahema dashed 72 yards up the middle with a low Air Force punt for a touchdown. Barely eight minutes later, Bosco pulled BYU even, finding Bellini again, this time all alone behind the secondary. "We screwed up," said Falcon free safety Scott Thomas. "As a matter of fact, I screwed that up. I keyed on the wrong guy. I should have been covering Bellini."
When Bosco squeezed off the game-winner with 5:41 remaining, Air Force was in man-to-man coverage. The 5'8" Sikahema ran out of the backfield and right past 229-pound linebacker Terry Maki, who was assigned to cover him. "I'd beaten my man, but when I turned around and didn't see the ball coming, I thought Robbie was sacked," Sikahema said. "When I finally saw the ball, I just hoped it would get to me before the defender did." Sikahema came back a bit to make the catch and then covered the rest of the 69 yards all crisp and clean and no caffeine.
Bosco has had a curious season—a better one, his coaches maintain, than last year. He has faced eight- and nine-man coverages and thrown from behind an inexperienced line to an injury-riddled corps of receivers. Yet nearly all of his numbers are up from '84. That, alas, includes interceptions, from 11 to 22. However, so many Cougar patterns are "reads," with receivers instructed to react to coverage and Bosco having to anticipate those reactions, that mistakes are to be expected. Says Norm Chow, the Cougars' receivers coach, "We throw the doggone thing so often, something's gonna happen."
But Bosco's Heisman chances have suffered from four interceptions he threw in the loss to UTEP and two more in the Cougars' other loss, to UCLA on Sept. 7. What's more, Bosco plays in a sort of media warp. Only one BYU game, a 31-3 thumping of Washington, has been on network TV, and ABC chose to beam that one to only 15% of the sets in the nation. "Bless the [Heisman] electors," says BYU sports publicist Dave Schulthess, "but they're not going to vote for someone they haven't seen."
The BYU defense is also deserving of more recognition. Air Force's fishbone offense is so well-conceived that Barry (Trash the WAC) Switzer, who coaches Oklahoma's 'bone, made three preseason visits to Colorado Springs to learn DeBerry's secret. Air Force likes to get down low, cut away at defenders' feet and crawl into the secondary like characters in a Steven Spielberg movie. Yet BYU quickly mastered the Falcon line's scramble blocks. Tackles Jason Buck and Shawn Knight consistently strung out Weiss and the Falcon fishbone, while the Cougars' back eight hurried up to make stops. BYU limited Air Force's ground attack, the nation's fifth-best coming into the game, to 86 yards net in the final three quarters.
After playing Utah (the Cougars have yet to beat a team that goes by four letters, beginning with "U") and Hawaii, BYU will likely take on either Auburn or Ohio State in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. There the Cougars and their Latter-part-of-the-day Saint Bosco should fare well.