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Fresno State wide receiver KeeSean Johnson attempting a catch against BYU defensive back Chris Wilcox on Nov. 4, 2017 at Bulldog Stadium. The ‘Dogs won 20-13 and are now bowl eligible (Daniel Avalos/ The Collegian)

‘Dogs bowl eligible!

After a hiatus, Fresno State football returned to its winning ways against BYU Saturday night, beating the Cougars 20-13 with a stellar performance from the defense.

Fresno State, with their non-conference victory, is now 6-3 and bowl eligible for the first time since 2014.

Sophomore linebacker Jeffrey Allison continued his defensive play Saturday night with 14 total tackles― six of them solo, and a sack. Defensive end Robert Stanley contributed a sack of his own.

Tank Kelly led the way in passes batted down with three, two of which came early in the second quarter on back-to-back Tanner Mangum passes thrown in his direction. This crucial effort was followed up by a Stanley sack on third down and then a Cougar punt.

“Overall, [our defense] made some mistakes. They were a good team that took advantage of our mistakes, but we had to buckle down. We had to fight,” Allison said. “The coaches were talking to us making sure we stayed in the game. We talked to each other making sure we stayed in the game.”

The Bulldogs went into halftime with a 13-6 lead, built by a pair of Jimmy Camacho field goals and a Jordan Mims touchdown run.

The defense forced a three-and-out and a turnover on the Cougars’ first two drives of the game. The Cougars were scoreless in the first quarter and without a touchdown for the first half, but the defense did concede a pair of field goals in the second quarter.

The third quarter also brought a touchdown for the Cougars. Tail-back Squally Canada capped off an 11-play, 75-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run to tie the game 13-13.

Canada gave the Bulldogs trouble on defense, rushing for 84 yards on 12 carries.

“[Canada] had big holes. Their offensive line is a really good offensive line. They were spreading us out, and they were creating gaps in there, so he had a lot of space to run,” head coach Jeff Tedford said. “You have to give them a lot of credit. They were very physical up front, and they did a nice job of blocking us.”

BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum succeeded in the passing game despite the Bulldogs’ efforts, throwing for 163 yards with a 61 percent completion percentage. His night was almost cut short after an apparent leg injury late in the second quarter, but he returned for the second half.

The injury bug could not leave Mangum alone. He was forced out of the game again in the fourth quarter with a noncontact right leg injury.

“He’s an awesome competitor,” Tedford said of Mangum. “It didn’t surprise me at all that he came back in the second half. I knew he’d come back because that’s just the type of competitor he is.”

‘Dogs’ quarterback Marcus McMaryion struggled to get any sort of rhythm going with his receivers in the first half. He was 8 of 11 on throws for 95 yards in the first half.

Fifty of those yards came on a bomb to Da’Mari Scott, but none of his other throws went for longer than 18 yards.

The Bulldogs revitalized their passing game and scored a touchdown during the second half, taking a 20-13 lead.

McMaryion was able to establish a rapport with KeeSean Johnson and Scott on their second drive of the third quarter, finding Johnson twice for 19 yards and Scott once, deep for 35 yards. This drive was capped off by a 2-yard touchdown run by Mims.

McMaryion finished with 174 yards, a 70 percent completion percentage and a 143.1 quarterback rating.

“We went into the locker room, and we talked to our coaches and they made the adjustments that we needed to make to have our offense execute at a better standard,” Johnson said.

Mims, while only rushing for 54 yards on 20 attempts, scored both of the Bulldogs’ touchdowns and was responsible for a number of first downs on third-and-short.

Josh Hokit found a little more success in the run game, rushing for 59 yards on 13 attempts.

Ronnie Rivers carried the ball three times for 14 yards. Tedford said this had nothing to do with anything negative Rivers was doing or had done during practice.

“A lot of it was inside stuff, and I thought Mims was doing a really good job, and Hokit was doing a good job. They were pounding it up in there,” Tedford said. “It wasn’t anything negative at all, or that we were trying to save him, or anything like that. Those other guys were playing fine, and we just wanted to keep feeding them.”

But in crunch time, the fate of the game was left in the defense’s hands. The group forced a turnover on downs and a fumble in the fourth quarter, the most crucial of the two being the latter.

With a little over three minutes left, Mike Bell made a rattling tackle that shook the entire stadium while forcing tight end Matt Bushman to cough up the ball. Allison caught the ball, and the ‘Dogs started their final drive on the Cougars’ 25-yard line.

“It feels amazing right now,” Bell said about being bowl eligible. “The guys in there are all loving it, all enjoying it. Everybody’s playing for one another right now it’s just an amazing feeling in the locker room right now. It’s a great place to be right now.”

The ‘Dogs ran out the clock and with the win became bowl eligible.

Fresno State will resume conference play on the road against Hawaii on Saturday.