The BYU football team capped off its 2016 regular season with a victory over the rival Utah State Aggies on the Cougars’ senior night. It was the fourth-straight win for the Cougars, who went 7-1 after starting the season 1-3.
The Cougars won 28-10, securing the Old Wagon Wheel for the second-straight year. BYU is now 10-2 since 2000 against the Aggies.
But a steep price was paid for the victory.
In the fourth quarter, quarterback Taysom Hill scrambled towards the end zone. He leapt and came down forcefully and awkwardly on his left arm. Hill immediately grabbed the arm and walked toward the sideline.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said after the game that Hill didn’t fracture anything, but would need an MRI to evaluate any other damage. Still, he was hopeful Hill would return for the Cougars’ bowl game.
Unfortunately for Hill and the Cougars, he won’t be able to return.
Hill will require surgery on his left elbow/arm and his collegiate career is over.
“It was super sad to see a friend go down,” said quarterback Tanner Mangum, who threw a touchdown pass after Hill went down. “We obviously feel bad. We hate to see a friend go down.”
Hill will leave BYU having completed 609 of 1,047 passes for 6,929 yards and 43 touchdowns. He’s also rushed for 2,815 yards and 32 touchdowns. He is No. 5 all-time on BYU’s career rushing list and No. 11 in career passing.
While the loss of Hill is a monumental one for the Cougars, there were still a number of positives to take from the game.
Not the least of which being the defense, which once again led the way for BYU football.
“Obviously we’re happy with the win,” said BYU head coach Kalani Sitake. “It wasn’t a perfect game, but I’m happy with the result. Utah State came out and was motivated to win. I like the way we played in the second half, specifically on defense. We did a great job making some adjustments.”
Second-half adjustments have been key for the Cougars all season long. The game marked marked the fourth-straight second half shutout for BYU and the Cougars have allowed just 21 second-half (or overtime) points in their last eight games.
In that same span, the BYU offense has scored 160 points. There’s no denying the Cougars are a second-half team.
But Sitake said the team needs to start faster.
“The goal is to start the first half like we do the second half,” Sitake said. “We have some time now to prepare for the bowl game. We look forward to that being our goal.”
Next up for the Cougars is the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl against a currently unknown Mountain West Conference opponent. Most bowl projections have BYU facing either the Wyoming Cowboys or San Diego State Aztecs in the game.
But while BYU football still has one more game on the schedule, the clash for the Old Wagon Wheel marked the final home game for 21 seniors.
It was an emotional night in Provo, as the Cougars will lose all four of their captains to graduation.
One of those captains, BYU’s all-time leading rusher Jamaal Williams, said he was thankful to call BYU his home.
“I’m just grateful to be here,” Williams said. “I’m grateful for the fans and everything they’ve done to support me through ups and downs and trials. This place is one of a kind. It has one-of-a-kind people that care about you and want to see you succeed. I knew I was going to come back. It’s just what I do. I stay loyal and finish what I start. I’m just grateful for everybody.”
Williams rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown in the victory. He averaged 7.3 yards per carry after missing the last two games.
Senior defensive lineman Logan Taele forced a fumble that was recovered by Michael Shelton and returned 46 yards for a touchdown. The Columbus, Ohio native said the night was a bittersweet one.
“For me, it’s very sentimental,” Taele said. “I walked on five years ago and I got cut. All I wanted to do was play in this stadium. Now I’ve been here and I’ve played a lot. I wanted to go out with a bang and make my teammates proud, my family proud and the fans proud.”
Senior wide receiver Colby Pearson caught a five-yard touchdown pass in the win. Pearson entered the 2016 season with 38 career receptions. In his senior season he caught 36 passes, nearly equaling his career mark.
He said the team had an “awesome season” and added the Cougars have a “bright future.”
The BYU football team will have to wait about a week to figure out its opponent for the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 21.
But even without Hill, Sitake is looking forward to the game.
“I think we are a much closer team and (the players) know what to expect from all the coaches, myself and the coordinators,” Sitake said. “The comfort level is there. We love each other. When you love the people you’re with and you love what you’re doing and what you represent, you can do a lot of things.”