Salt Lake City — The BYU football team’s 4th quarter comeback fell short on Saturday night when a field goal attempt went off the upright, resulting in a 24-21 loss at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
In a wild and crazy finish that seems to define the rivalry between BYU and Utah, the Cougars saw a fourth down conversion lead to two premature fan celebrations and two unsuccessful BYU field goal tries, handing the Cougars their first loss of the season.
Most of the game proved to be an ugly showing of penalties for both teams, as the Cougars committed 12 penalties for 75 yards through three quarters of play. The Utes committed half as many during the same time span, but for almost the same distance, with 70 yards.
“Our team didn’t play clean enough football today to win the game,” BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “I really liked their heart, how they fought back, how they fought to the last second and gave us a great chance, but (there were) too many mistakes from the beginning of the game through to have a clean enough victory, and Utah capitalized on that to their credit.”
A drive in the first quarter of the game looked like the game film from last season for the Cougars, as senior quarterback Riley Nelson fumbled the ball in the team’s own endzone, being tackled for what would have been a safety. However, a face mask penalty on Ute junior defensive end Joe Kruger extended the BYU drive.
BYU went on to fumble a total of five times, but he recovered four of them. The only fumble Utah recovered was returned 47 yards for a touchdown by senior cornerback Moe Lee. Additionally, there were two other initial fumbles by Nelson that were reversed by replay challenge.
“I was in the pocket too long, and they had good pass rushers,” Nelson said. “My arm got hit probably six or seven times, and that’s a product of holding onto the ball too long, but (I) also give credit to their pass rush.”
The Utah crowd became a factor to the BYU offense, contributing to several false starts by the offensive line and some miscommunications.
“We were exposed in that we can’t handle noise,” Nelson said. “I’ve played up in Boise, and it’s just, as if not more, noisy. That will be an emphasis this week in practice. Credit their (Utah’s) crowd.”
Both defenses did their part in the first half, allowing fewer than 150 yards of total offense each. The Utes scored on a touchdown pass from senior quarterback Jon Hays to junior tight end Westlee Tonga. The Cougars responded with a ten-yard touchdown pass from Nelson to junior wideout Cody Hoffman. The game went into halftime tied at 7.
“Our defense is gritty,” junior linebacker Kyle Van Noy said. “We make plays and try to win. We try to get the offense in the best position possible to win.”
However, the Utes capitalized on two BYU turnovers, making the score 24–7 at the end of the third quarter.
The Cougars finally turned it on in the fourth quarter, with freshman running back Jamaal Williams scoring his first career touchdown with about 13 minutes to go, making the score 24–14.
BYU then forced a special teams error by Utah punter Sean Sellwood, in which BYU took over in the red zone. Four plays later, Nelson connected with junior tight end Kaneakua Friel for a touchdown with under four minutes to play. It was Friel’s third touchdown catch of the season, closing the scoring gap to 24–21.
The Utes were able to run two minutes off the clock and downed the punt inside the 10-yard line.
In homage to the 2007 rivalry game, in which Max Hall hooked up with Austin Collie on 4th-and-18 on the drive and won the game for the Cougars, Nelson found Hoffman streaking down the sideline on 4th-and-12 to the 19 for a 47-yard completion.
“They had been bracketing (Hoffman) all night, and he and I saw it,” Nelson said. “He came to me with the idea, I liked it, and we were able to complete the pass. Coach Doman had enough confidence in us to let us call it, and it put us in position to kick a field goal.”
After an incomplete pass that had the scoreboard showing the game was over, the Utah crowd stormed the field. It proved to be too early, however, because official replay revealed there was still a second on the clock.
Junior kicker Justin Sorensen’s kick was blocked by Ute senior defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. It was recovered by BYU junior JD Falslev, but he couldn’t advance the ball because of the Utah crowd interference, who again stormed the field too early. A 15-yard live ball foul was called on the crowd, and BYU was given another shot at sending the game into overtime. However, senior Riley Stephenson’s kick clanked off the upright, finally giving the Utah fans permission to legally storm the field.
“To Utah’s credit, they blocked the field goal, and to JD Falslev’s credit, he fights and scratches, and there’s a personal foul against him that gave us a real chance,” Mendenhall said. “That was phenomenal on his part. We can’t ask for more than that. We got to kick the ball through the uprights.”
The Cougars have a quick turnaround, as they travel to play Boise State on Thursday night. The game will kick off at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN.
“There’s no feeling sorry for ourselves,” Nelson said. “We lost to a good football team tonight. And it’s a quick turnaround.”
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