BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Mike Atkinson has often talked with his Boise State teammates about that rare moment of glory for a nose tackle: The elusive pick six.
That heroic moment finally came Thursday night when he dropped back into pass coverage, stepped in front of a throw by Brigham Young quarterback Riley Nelson and rumbled 36 yards for a touchdown.
His score turned out to be the difference as the No. 24 Broncos (2-1) held off a late rally to beat the Cougars 7-6 in a game dominated by defenses and marred by turnovers and penalties.
"We always talk about getting interceptions and taking it to the house," said Atkinson, a Canadian who goes by the nickname 'Canadian Bacon.' "We always talk about it happening, but it rarely does. You don't really think when it's happening, you just react."
It's also the second time this season the defense has supplied all of the Broncos' touchdowns as the offense struggles to find a rhythm in the wake of quarterback Kellen Moore's departure. In opener, safety Jeremy Ioane returned an interception for a score in a 17-13 loss at Michigan State
The Boise State defense also forced five turnovers and held BYU scoreless until the game's final minutes.
With 8:03 remaining, BYU backup quarterback Taysom Hill engineered an 11-play, 95 yard drive capped by his four-yard touchdown run. But BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall gambled, electing to go for a 2-point conversion to try to secure the Cougars' first-ever victory over Boise State.
Hill dropped back to pass, was immediately flushed out of the pocket and his on-the-run throw was deflected by linebacker J.C. Percy and fell incomplete into the end zone.
"I wanted to win," Mendenhall said. "We had momentum for the first time in the game, moving the ball offensively. We wanted to capitalize on it. I'd do it again."
The Broncos, aided by a 40-yard kick return by Mitch Burroughs, ran out the clock to notch their third straight victory over BYU.
"I'm ecstatic for what happened on" defense, Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "We have to go back to the drawing board on the other side. That happens sometimes."
But give credit to the BYU defense, which came into the game as one of the stingiest in the nation, allowing just 14.3 points per game and an average of 59 yards on the ground.