BYU football: Cougars open Sitake era with thrilling win against Arizona

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Ari Davis
Fred Warner celebrates with Butch Pau’u following a sack on Saturday night. BYU defeated Arizona 18-16. (Ari Davis)

The first game in the Kalani Sitake era of BYU was a memorable one as freshman kicker Jake Oldroyd nailed a 33-yard field goal with six seconds left to give the Cougars 18-16 victory.

After the game, all the focus was on Sitake’s first win. But he was quick to dismiss the attention.

“I’m really thankful we had a good opponent like Arizona,” Sitake said. “But this isn’t about me, this is about these guys. They worked extremely hard for this win and it was a great game.”

The scoring began at the 10:42-mark of the second quarter as Rhett Almond connected on a 24-yard field goal. It was a low and wobbly kick, but it gave the Cougars a 3-0 lead.

With just under three minutes in the half, fullback Brayden El-Bakri plowed his way into the endzone for one-yard touchdown. Almond would miss the extra point and the Cougars found themselves up 9-0.

The Wildcats’ Tyrell Johnson ripped a 33-yard return on the ensuing kickoff, giving Arizona good field position. The Wildcats seemed primed to score and were in chip-shot field goal range when Francis Bernard rushed the right side of the line and sacked Anu Solomon for a 16-yard loss. Bernard finished with one sack and one interception.

Arizona missed a 51-yard field goal attempt to close the half and the Cougars entered halftime with a shutout, leading 9-0.

The Wildcats scored the first points of the second half, connecting on a 46-yard field goal with six minutes remaining in the third quarter. The kick cut BYU’s lead to 9-3.

Ari Davis
Quarterback Taysom Hill celebrates after Brayden El-Bakri scored a one-yard touchdown. (Ari Davis)

The Cougars answered with a 10-play, 80-yard, 4:22 drive that was capped off by a six-yard touchdown strike from Taysom Hill to Colby Pearson. BYU went for a two-point conversion, but failed to convert and extended its lead to 15-3.

But, despite being down two scores, the Wildcats weren’t folding. Nick Wilson capped off a seven-play, 75-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown scamper. Arizona connected on the extra point and closed the gap to 15-10 with 9:33 left in the game.

The Cougars were unable to score on their next two possessions and Arizona took over with three minutes left. Wilson snapped a 49-yard touchdown run at the 1:26 mark, giving the Wildcats a 16-15 lead. They attempted a two-point conversion, but Butch Pau’u intercepted the pass in the end zone.

BYU took over on their own 31-yard line with 1:20 remaining in the game and two timeouts remaining. They faced a 3rd-and-7 but Hill connected with Jonah Trinnaman for an 11-yard gain. On the next play Williams broke off a 12-yard run and followed it with a six-yard run. With 35 seconds remaining the Cougars took a timeout. It was one of many key plays Williams contributed to on the night and Hill knew his running back shouldered the load.

“Jamaal’s MVP for sure,” Hill said. “He carried us. He was a beast the entire game. When we needed a big play, Jamaal stepped up.”

But for Williams, it was all about the team.

“I’m just proud of how the offense came out (for the final drive),” Williams said. “We were calm and collected…. and that comes from practice. We do that all the time. I’m just extremely proud of my teammates.”

A false start penalty on the 11-yard line forced  BYU to take their final timeout with eight seconds remaining. Coming out of the timeout, Oldroyd lined up for a game-winning field goal. Arizona attempted to ice him, but to no avail. Oldroyd connected on the 33-yard attempt, giving the Cougars the win.

“I have a lot of trust in our players,” Sitake said. “These guys were excited for the moment and they stepped up to the plate and were ready to roll. It was worth all the time and all the practice we put into it.”

Williams led the Cougars’ offense, gaining 172 yards on 29 carries. Pau’u led the defense with nine tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. Senior captain Kai Nacua finished with six tackles and one interception. Hill amassed 239 total yards and threw for a touchdown.

Next the Cougars will travel to Salt Lake City to take on the rival Utes in the Holy War. The game kicks off at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10 on Fox.

 

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