It wasn’t the most ideal weather, or the most favorable start time or even the most competitive game, but it was an important one to the seniors on the BYU football team, as it would be their last at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
With temperatures below 30 degrees and mountains of snow piled onto the edges of the field, the Cougars looked at home in the elements, putting on a showcase of experienced talent in a blowout win over the Idaho Vandals Saturday night, winning 52–13 to end their home season.
“It’s hard to explain, being a senior,” defensive end Russell Tialavea said. “I’ve been here six years. I had just as much fun playing as watching the other guys play. It’s such a big class, and it’s special to play with the seniors.”
For several of the seniors the game was a big finish to their careers at LaVell Edwards Stadium, but the season isn’t done for any of them. The Cougars still have two road games to finish the regular season, and the Poinsettia Bowl in December — their eighth straight bowl appearance.
“It’s a great way for our seniors to finish up,” Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Not only did they play well, but they played about a half and had a great time cheering on their teammates. That’s great leadership. We had a great crowd. Many stayed till the end, and our players really appreciated that. We’re looking forward to going on the road the next two weeks.”
Quarterback Riley Nelson had his best game of the season, throwing for 236 yards and three touchdowns to junior wide receiver Cody Hoffman. Nelson also ran for 49 yards, looking healthier than he has since the season opener. But Nelson asserted that it wasn’t any different from any other game.
“The only thing different about this game is that I’m still in my jersey because my family wanted to take pictures,” Nelson said. “We still got three more games.”
In addition to Nelson, senior quarterback James Lark played the majority of the second half, throwing for 49 yards and another touchdown to freshman Cody Raymond. Senior running back and team captain David Foote compiled 38 yards on the ground on 10 carries.
“It didn’t really hit me until I ran out onto the field that it would be my last game,” senior offensive tackle Braden Brown said. “We played well, started fast like last week. I couldn’t envision my last game at LaVell Edwards Stadium ending any different.”
On the defensive side, where the Cougars are mostly upperclassmen, the seniors excelled in their final game. Linebacker Brandon Ogletree led the team with six tackles, while cornerback Preston Hadley added five. Defensive end and NFL prospect Ezekiel Ansah had three tackles, one of which was for a loss, two pass break-ups and a quarterback hurry, while both Tialavea and fellow senior defensive lineman Simote Vea each had a fumble recovery. The defense, which has ranked in the top 10 in the nation in almost every category, is full of seniors who love their team and what the game means to them.
“Our defense is pretty complex,” Ogletree said. “A lot of people wonder why freshmen automatically don’t get playing time. It’s hard to earn the coach’s trust, and it’s an uphill battle. It’s special, and you just cherish it. I’ll always think about it, because the relationships we make are lifelong.”
The players were impressed by and grateful to the fans who stayed in the freezing temperatures for the entire game, cheering on the Cougars and especially the seniors.
“I’m sure it was much colder for them sitting in the stands than for us running around on the field,” Brown said. “Credit to them. We appreciate all the support we can get.”