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Aleva Hifo and Lopini Katoa soar through the endzone during BYU’s 31-24 win over Liberty. (Preston Crawley)

BYU beat Liberty 31-24 on Nov. 9 in what defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga called an ugly win for the Cougars.

BYU has now won its last three games and is looking forward to possible bowl eligibility. Defensive back Austin Lee said the team felt an urgency after their losses earlier in the season and it has helped them to practice in a more effective way.

“I think the sense of urgency carried over in how we prepare from Monday to Saturday. You win the game on Monday,” Lee said.

Statistically, this game didn’t look as good as the last couple of games for the Cougars, with BYU’s offense ending with fewer total yards than Liberty. Head coach Kalani Sitake said Liberty was able to throw the Cougars off a little bit and he admired the way they played the game.

“I can’t really say that we made a lot of mistakes because they were the ones that forced it,” Sitake said.

Liberty started off with the ball and wasted no time moving down the field in the first drive of the game. The drive lasted 3:56 and ended with a 19-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Stephen Calvert to Zac Foutz. With 11:04 left in the first quarter, the Flames took the first lead of the game.

The Cougars started out their drive with some short runs and a couple of incomplete passes, but their momentum changed with a 47-yard pass from Baylor Romney to Micah Simon that put BYU on the Liberty seven-yard line.

Micah Simon corrals a Baylor Romney pass for a large gain against Liberty on Nov. 9. (Addie Blacker)

From there, a pass interference call against Liberty put the Cougars two yards from the end zone and another Simon reception tied the game with 7:56 left in the first quarter.

The Flames pushed back on their next drive and soon found themselves back in the red zone. The drive was filled with low-yardage plays that kept the team moving forward a little at a time. With 42 yards to go, the forward drive stalled and Alex Probart came on to attempt a field goal. The kick was no good and BYU took possession again, holding onto the football until the end of the quarter.

At the start of the second quarter, the Cougars took the ball and ran with it, putting themselves seven yards from the end zone on a third down. A pass to Dax Milne looked like it could have been a touchdown, but after the review, officials determined that Milne stepped out of bounds just before catching the ball and the pass was ruled incomplete. Jake Oldroyd came on for a field goal and put the Cougars in the lead with a score of 10-7 with 10:54 left in the half.

Liberty’s following drive ended quickly when BYU’s Keenan Pili sacked Calvert for a loss of eight yards, and Aidan Alves came on for a 39-yard punt. On the ensuing BYU drive, the Cougars started at their own 40-yard line and a 16-yard rush by Sione Finau was followed by a trick play where Simon took the ball and passed it to Matt Bushman who dodged Liberty’s defensive line and brought the ball 44 yards down the field and into the end zone. With 8:36 left in the first half, BYU lead 17-7.

Matt Bushman finds the end zone on a trick play that put Micah Simon at quarterback against Liberty. (Addie Blacker)

The Flames fought back but barely managed to get the ball into BYU territory on their next drive. At the BYU 37, they turned the ball over on downs after an incomplete pass intended for Johnny Huntley on a fourth and nine. BYU’s next drive ended with a 43-yard punt by Oldroyd.

Calvert then threw a 19-yard pass to Noah Frith, but an ineligible player downfield voided the play. Two more incomplete passes followed by a 3-yard pass to DJ Skelton forced the Flames to end their drive with a 52-yard punt by Alves.  

BYU started their next drive with 1:19 left in the half and ended it with a 47-yard punt by Oldroyd with 24 seconds left until they headed into the locker rooms. The Flames were unable to score in the time that was left, and the first half ended with BYU leading 17-7.

Liberty had a more impressive offensive stat line for the half despite trailing in points. The top rusher of the first half was Frankie Hickson with 40 yards. Finau, who was BYU’s top rusher, only had 23 yards on the half. Calvert had thrown 138 yards and Baylor had only thrown 119. BYU had totaled more tackles than Liberty, with Max Tooley credited with five.

BYU started the second half with a short drive, featuring a 21-yard pass to Bushman, and a 13-yard rush by Finau. The ball was fumbled by Finau at the Liberty 22-yard line and Liberty’s Bejour Wilson picked it up for the recovery.

Liberty quickly made it’s way back onto BYU’s side of the field with a drive that included a 17-yard pass to Antonio Gandy-Golden, and a 17-yard rush by Frankie Hickson. The drive ended with a 24-yard field goal by Alex Probert which put the score at 17-10 with 7:58 left in the third quarter.

BYU responded with a 75-yard drive that culminated in a pass from Baylor to Aleva Hifo, who took it into the end zone for a 41-yard gain. After a successful kick by Oldroyd, BYU led the game 24-10.

Skyler Southam kicked off and Shedro Louis returned the ball 20-yards to the Liberty 23. The following Liberty drive included a 17-yard run by Joshua Mack and ended with a 41-yard pass go Gandy-Golden that put the Flames in the end zone and put the score at 24-17 with 2:11 left in the third quarter.

A botched kick off by Probert put the Cougars on the Liberty 47 starting off their next drive, but on the second play, Baylor was picked off by Wilson at the Liberty eight-yard line. Liberty punted the ball one more time before the end of the quarter, and the Cougars held the ball on the BYU 45 going into the final frame of the game.

BYU moved into Liberty territory with a 18-yard run by Baylor, and capped off the drive with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Moroni Laulu-Pututau. With 12:01 left in the game, BYU increased its lead to 31-17.

Moroni Laulu-Pututau flexes in the end zone after his 17-yard touchdown reception. (Preston Crawley)

Oldroyd’s ensuing kickoff was only 37 yards and put the Flames on the BYU 46. The Flames took advantage and moved down the field with consecutive passes to Gandy-Golden that combined for 32 total yards. The drive was capped by a 13-yard touchdown pass to Foutz, putting the Flames within striking distance, 31-24, with 6:35 left on the clock.

BYU’s following drive lasted 5:08 and slowly moved the team into the red zone. On a fourth and two, Oldroyd came onto the field for what looked like a field goal attempt. The Cougar’s attempted a trick play in which Baylor passed the ball to Oldroyd who ran it, but Oldroyd was stopped by Liberty’s Javon Scruggs and the play ended with a four yard loss.

Liberty started its next drive strong with a 16-yard pass to Gandy-Golden that put them on the 50-yard line. The momentum wasn’t enough to carry the team to the end zone, and the Cougars maintained their 31-24 lead as the clock expired.

BYU’s offense was still lagging statistically by the end of the game with Finau, the Cougar’s top runner, having run 70 total yards compared to Hickson, Liberty’s top runner, who ran 79 yards. Baylor threw for a total of 262 yards, while Calvert threw for 303.

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