Puka Nacua celebrates a touchdown against Georgia Southern. (BYU Photo)

BYU football rallies for 34-17 road win over Georgia Southern

BYU football fought back to score 20 unanswered points in a tough 34-17 road victory over a hostile Georgia Southern squad.

The No. 14 Cougars started hot with an early 14-3 lead following touchdowns from Lopini Katoa and Puka Nacua, but Georgia Southern’s rushing attack soon began to carve through BYU’s defense with running back Logan Wright finding consecutive scores to put the Eagles ahead 17-14 midway through the second quarter.

Understaffed at linebacker with Payton Wilgar sidelined with a season-ending injury and Max Tooley being ejected on an early targeting call, the defense adjusted in the second half to shut out the Eagles following Wright’s second score. Ben Bywater, Pepe Tanuvasa and Uriah Leiataua led the late tackling charge for the Cougars, with defensive back Jakob Robinson snatching two interceptions as well.

“Our coaches said to play our brand of football, and then everybody started focusing,” Robinson said of the halftime adjustments on defense.

“We had a lot of young guys making plays (on defense), and that makes me really happy,” head coach Kalani Sitake said.

Quarterback Jaren Hall delivered another solid performance, throwing for 312 yards and two touchdowns without surrendering any turnovers. BYU’s offensive line — a question mark prior to the contest with plenty of injury concerns — pushed the Cougars ahead for nearly 200 rushing yards without giving up any sacks.

“We knew they were gonna play hard, they’re a physical team. We just kept the energy and tried to be consistent all game,” Hall said.

Nacua left the contest in the first half with an injury on a rushing attempt but returned to grab a second touchdown reception on a 29-yard strike from Hall in the fourth quarter, the final nail in Georgia Southern’s coffin.

“He balls out in the first half, he gets injured, the trainers take care of him and he finishes like that,” Hall said of Nacua. “He’s a warrior.”

In addition to Nacua’s pair of touchdowns, fellow receivers Samson Nacua, Gunner Romney and Keanu Hill all combined for 220 yards on 10 catches. Although quiet in the first half, Tyler Allgeier heated up to grind the clock late and notch his fifth 100-yard performance on the season with 136 yards and a touchdown, passing Luke Staley for eighth place on BYU’s career rushing leaderboard.

“Mr. Allgeier does it again,” Puka said. “It’s always fun to see Tyler carry seven dudes for eight yards every time.”

Deep in Eagle territory with under two minutes to play, Sitake elected for the Cougars to take a knee and run the clock out rather than go for an additional score — a puzzling decision for some who felt BYU needed more “style points” in order to boost their resume for a New Year’s Six bid. For Sitake, even after some late scuffling between the two teams and Eagle fans hurling burritos at the Cougars on the sidelines, the decision to remain sportsmanlike was a no-brainer.

“We’re gonna play with sportsmanship and do the right thing, and kneeling at the end was the right thing to do,” Sitake said. “Style points for us is getting younger guys in the game.”

The Cougars head back to the west coast to face USC on Saturday, Nov. 27 in their final regular-season contest for a chance to clinch consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time since 2008-09. Kickoff is 8:30 p.m. MST in Los Angeles.

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