SAN JOSE -- San Jose State knew Saturday's nationally-televised showdown with BYU represented an opportunity to make a statement.
The Spartans delivered with a 20-14 victory over the Cougars at Spartan Stadium that puts them in position to record the most wins as a major college program in school history.
"That was a classic football game," SJSU coach Mike MacIntyre said. "That will be one that will be remembered around here for many years. I can't tell you what a great win this is for our university, for our athletic department, for all those kids in that locker room and for that coaching staff."
The Spartans (9-2) have nine wins for the first time since 2006, when they won the New Mexico Bowl to finish 9-4. Knocking off bowl-bound BYU likely eliminates any doubt that the Spartans will earn their first bowl invitation since that same season.
"I think if you would ask anybody in America if we'd be 9-2 at this time, I don't think many people would've said it," MacIntyre said. "It would be phenomenal for us to get 10 wins in a year and then we might be bowling somewhere really special."
SJSU hasn't won 10 games in a season since 1987 and hasn't won more than that since 1940, when Pop Warner was an advisory coach and the Spartans played as an independent often against lower-division competition.
SJSU led early in this one, but its defense delivered the big plays late to secure its first victory over BYU (6-5) since 1968.
"This is the biggest moment where I can say our team rose to the occasion," junior receiver Noel Grigsby said. "We knew this was our moment to get national recognition and we wanted to own the moment, and we did."
BYU nearly spoiled the night, which featured an ESPN2 audience and crowd of 15, 494.
The Cougars scored a touchdown with 2 minutes, 36 seconds left to get within six points, then recovered an onside kick.
BYU converted on a fourth-and-8 play and reached as far as the SJSU 21-yard line.
That's when Spartans linebacker Keith Smith delivered the play of the night. He blitzed off the left edge and sacked Nelson. He forced a fumble that Vince Buhagiar recovered to seal the victory.
"It was just a blur," said Smith, who matched a career high with 19 tackles. "I was just in my zone. Coach called a blitz. We all just ran it to perfection. It just happened to come my way. It was my opportunity to make a play and I took advantage of it."
The offense set the tone early, scoring on its first three drives. Quarterback David Fales capped each of those possessions with touchdowns and broke three school records on the night.
"I'm speechless with regards to our offense as a whole," Fales said. "Anybody watching the game knows that those records were not about me."
Fales completed 25 of 34 passes for 305 yards. He now has 3,431 passing yards and 28 touchdowns. The yardage breaks Mike Perez's 1987 record and the touchdowns top Steve Clarkson's 1987 mark. His 3,302 yards of total offense breaks Scott Rislov's 2002 mark.
Fales broke Clarkson's record on his third pass of the game. That went for a 51-yard touchdown to Noel Grigsby. The PAT was blocked and SJSU led 6-0 with 13:45 left in the first quarter.
BYU easily drove down the field on its first possession and freshman Jamaal Williams took an option pitch from Nelson and went 16 yards for a touchdown and 7-6 lead. The Cougars offense wouldn't have it that easy the rest of the night.
Fales and the Spartans responded with a nine-play, 70-yard drive that was capped by an 8-yard touchdown pass to Chandler Jones. That completion pushed Fales past Perez.
SJSU's defense got into the act, forcing the first of consecutive BYU three-and-outs.
The Spartans scored again. They converted twice on third down during an 11-play drive and Fales hit Grigsby, this time for a 19-yard touchdown and 20-7 lead with 13:23 left in the second quarter.
It looked like the game may turn into a shootout, but the defenses took over.
SJSU picked up 56 yards on its next drive, but that ended when Fales threw an interception. The Spartans' next seven drives all ended with punts.
SJSU had 267 yards through those first four possessions, but picked up just 97 yards the rest of the game.
The Spartans defense kept delivering though.
David Tuitupou, a senior defensive end whose career started with two years on BYU's scout team, helped end one Cougars third-quarter possession with a sack on second down. Nelson's third down pass in SJSU territory fell incomplete.
BYU marched down to the SJSU 21 before Tuitupou delivered another big play. He sacked Nelson again, this time forcing and recovering a fumble for the Spartans.
Tuitupou and his brother, senior tight end Peter Tuitupou, were raised 10 minutes from BYU's campus and their mother works at the school, so this win was extra sweet for him.
"I think I know the definition of euphoria now," David Tuitupou said. "It's a great win for our program and personally it feels good."
BYU got the ball back after a punt and its offense seemed to be marching toward another score. The Cougars converted a fourth-and-3 play and reached the Spartans' 24. But Nelson was picked off by SJSU freshman Jimmy Pruitt to end the threat.
The Spartans offense quickly punted it back and BYU moved to within striking range again, but a fourth-and-goal pass from the SJSU 6 was incomplete.
The Cougars finally closed the gap with 2:36 left. Nelson was under duress and nearly sacked on fourth-and-10, but he escaped and hit David Foote for a 20-yard touchdown to make it 20-14.
"We had him sacked," MacIntyre said. "I don't know how he got out of it. And then to find someone open for a touchdown. What a phenomenal play."
BYU recovered the onside kick but Smith forced the turnover and the Spartans were left to celebrate.
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For more from Saturday's win over BYU game, visit mercurynews.com/sports
Louisiana Tech (9-2, 4-1 WAC) at San Jose State (9-2, 5-1), 7:30 p.m. ESPN2