Former Ute Samson Nacua celebrates a touchdown against his former team at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday. (Dallin Wilks)

BYU football stuns Utah 26-17 to snap rivalry losing skid

BYU football capped off possibly the most exciting week in BYU sports history with a 26-17 upset victory over rival No. 21 Utah on Saturday.

A lot needed to happen for the Cougars to end their nine-game rivalry losing streak against the Utes. BYU needed a gritty, ugly win. They needed to grind the clock, convert on third down and prevent Utes quarterback Charlie Brewer from finding any rhythm.

By all accounts, they did.

They needed quarterback Jaren Hall to take advantage of his feet better than ever before. He did, running for 92 yards on eight carries, dancing around the pocket to extend plays while also tossing three touchdowns.

They needed to beat the Utes at their own game, running the football down their throats and dominating at the line of scrimmage. They did, rushing for 219 yards at nearly five yards a clip against the famed Utah defensive run stoppers.

They needed the LaVell Edwards Stadium faithful to bring the most energy Provo had seen since taking down Gonzaga in men’s basketball back in February 2020. They did, even amid an intense fourth quarter downpour, storming the field in pure hysterics once Hall knelt to officially bury the Utes.

“It was exhausting, but it was just so much fun. I missed our fans,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said. “There was something special. They made a difference tonight and I hope the fans know how much our players love them.”

Utah looked nothing like head coach Kyle Whittingham’s usual Cougar killers. The Utes appeared clueless on third down, converting just two of nine chances, while the Cougars nailed 11 of 19. A silenced defensive front could barely touch Hall and would finish the night without a sack.

The Cougars controlled from start to finish, never trailing after a Jake Oldroyd first-quarter field goal and leading by as many as 16 in the fourth. They owned the time of possession by a margin of more than 10 minutes above Utah, with Sitake’s excellent game management melting plenty of clock late in the contest. Utah sporadically executed a few big plays to make things interesting, but the Cougars always countered with an answer.

Jaren Hall runs the ball against Utah on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Hall had 92 rushing yards and three passing touchdowns on the night. (Dallin Wilks)

Both teams stumbled out the gate, with the typically well-controlled Utes coughing up two turnovers in their first two drives on a Chaz Ah You interception and Isaiah Herron fumble recovery. Earning only the Oldroyd field goal from the takeaways, offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick adjusted his play-calling to march the Cougars downfield to score twice in the second quarter. Hall’s pocket composure created opportunities for receivers Neil Pau’u and Samson Nacua – the recent Utah transfer – to find the endzone just before halftime.

“I think Jaren is really starting to come into his own. I like the way he commands the offense,” Sitake said.

Hall connected with eight different pass-catchers on the night, with Gunner Romney joining Pau’u and Nacua in the touchdown department. Nacua’s brother Puka added 37 yards on four catches of his own and BYU’s talented running back tandem of Tyler Allgeier and Lopini Katoa combined for 130 yards on 35 carries.

“(I’ve) been waiting for years to enjoy that on the field with the fans,” Hall said. “It was all smiles and dancing in the locker room.”

Fans stormed the field to celebrate with the team after the victory. (Dallin Wilks)

On defense, Keenan Pili and Earl Tuioti-Mariner each led the charge with seven tackles each, with Pili, Payton Wilgar, Uriah Leiataua and Caden Haws teaming up to sack Brewer. Wilgar also had a few tackles for loss and combined with Herron to break up four passes.

“We go out there and we trust our guys,” Wilgar said of the defensive effort.

Brewer shakily completed 15 of 26 passes for 147 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Utes running back Micah Bernard was perhaps the most explosive performer of the night, running for 146 yards on 12 carries with a touchdown. Utah linebackers Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell piled up 13 and 11 tackles each, respectively.

After officially joining the Big 12 conference on Friday and reclaiming rivalry bragging rights a day later, a strong case could be made to call the past week the greatest in BYU history. “It’s definitely up there,” Hall said.

BYU could certainly enter the AP national rankings this weekend as a top 25 program after its hot 2-0 start to 2021. The Cougars now turn their focus to a third straight Pac-12 foe in their next matchup against Arizona State on Sept. 18 in Provo.

“We’re gonna go to church tomorrow and then go to work,” Sitake said.

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