BYU becomes bowl eligible with win over New Mexico State

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BYU overcame a slow start to cruise to a 45-10 win over New Mexico State on senior night on Nov. 17, improving to 6-5 on the season to become bowl eligible.

“It wasn’t our best start,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said. “But the guys played well and fired back after going down 7-0. I’m really pleased with the way they performed.”

New Mexico State scored on its second drive of the game, marching 85 yards down the field and finishing with a 17-yard touchdown catch by Drew Dan. After a BYU punt, the Aggies got all the way back down to the BYU 29 yard line on their following drive but missed a 46-yard field goal attempt.

After gaining only a total of 11 yards on its first three drives, BYU finally gained some momentum after a Malik Moore interception gave the offense the ball on the New Mexico State 15 yard line. Matt Hadley carried the ball each of the following four plays, finishing the drive with a one-yard touchdown run.

That touchdown run was only the beginning for the Cougars, who went on to have six rushing touchdowns. It was only the 10th time BYU has rushed for six touchdowns or more in program history. BYU finished the game with a season-high 317 yards on the ground.

Lopini Katoa adds to his team-high 155 rushing yards against the Aggies on Nov. 17. (Claire Gentry)

Lopini Katoa led the way for BYU with 19 carries for 155 yards and four touchdowns. Katoa’s four touchdowns were the most ever by a BYU freshman running back, and only six other players have accomplished the feat in BYU history.

“It was a lot of fun, just to see the offense clicking like that,” Katoa said. “It’s just a big tribute to our O-line. With the lanes they opened up it was fun to be able to run behind them.”

The defense came up big for the Cougars, holding New Mexico State to only 207 yards of total offense after their first two scoring drives. Both Dayan Ghanwoloku and Sione Takitaki had six tackles for BYU, two of which by Takitaki were tackles for loss. The defense ended with four sacks on the night and two interceptions.

“Turnovers are really the main focus of the defense,” Isaiah Kaufusi said, who had an interception in the first quarter. “To swing the game, those turnovers are huge. That’s really what brings the momentum and gets the crowd behind us. When we can create turnovers, we’re a dang good football team.”

Senior defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi did not play due to a lingering foot injury and will miss the remainder of the season. However, his brother Devin stepped in for the injured Corbin and recorded two tackles and one sack.

Tanner Mangum corrals the offense during his final game as a Cougar at LaVell Edwards Stadium. (Claire Gentry)

Zach Wilson finished 12-26 on the night for the Cougars and threw for 172 yards with no interceptions. Senior Tanner Mangum came into the game to start the fourth quarter for BYU, going 1-3 with 21 yards.

The Cougars now shift their focus to the rivalry game next week against Utah, who clinched the Pac-12 South title with a win over Colorado. BYU and Utah are meeting in the last week of the season for the first time since 2010 when they were both members of the Mountain West Conference.

“I like the game (against Utah),” Sitake said. “Out there (in Salt Lake City) in 2016 it didn’t go our way, so we’re looking for a better result. This will be a fun game, and I’m looking forward to it.”

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