BYU football snaps losing skid in gutsy 31-28 win over Boise State

For the first time in 37 days, the Cougars are in the win column.

BYU football exorcised the demons of its past winless month in dramatic fashion, with Puka Nacua’s all-time performance and late heroics lifting the Cougars over Boise State in a 31-28 victory Saturday night in Boise.

Nacua hauled in 14 receptions for 157 yards and a pair of touchdowns, with his second score putting the Cougars ahead for good with a diving, juggling grab on a perfectly thrown end zone fade from Jaren Hall.

Even more improbable than the catch itself was that it came on fourth down, where BYU had converted just five of 21 such opportunities on the season prior to Nacua’s clutch effort. Exorcism: confirmed.

“He’s one of the best players in college football,” head coach Kalani Sitake said of Nacua.

Big time players make big time plays, after all.

Nacua’s touchdown was impressive, but it was far from the dagger initially, as the Broncos still had just under two minutes to operate and had already scored on three of four second half drives.

It wouldn’t matter. BYU’s defense — so often under scrutiny throughout this chaotic campaign — rose to the occasion and stopped Boise in just four plays, with Jakob Robinson batting away the final Bronco pass to officially drown BYU’s drought.

“We knew the game was on the line,” linebacker Ben Bywater said of the final drive. “Somebody’s gotta come make a play at the end, and (Jakob) did that. Our guys had faith we could make this win happen, and we went out and did it. These nail biter games come down to mental toughness, and we just had that faith.”

As if keeping the faith was a simple task.

The Cougars found themselves frustratingly tied with the Broncos at halftime despite gaining 236 yards to Boise’s 79, with six second half lead changes making things increasingly uncomfortable and offering BYU every chance to roll over and accept its fate.

But Hall, Nacua and company would not be denied. BYU’s November is already far superior to its awkward October.

Completing the comeback in Boise didn’t just extinguish a lengthy losing streak— it brought the Cougars back to life.

The past month in Provo has been filled with agony, embarrassment, blame pointed in every direction and seemingly no reason to believe in an end to the pain. BYU had been blown out, lost in heartbreaking fashion and felt as if it was beyond repair. Everything had fallen to pieces.

Winning, however, can cure almost anything.

The angst-driven Cougars played with guts. They played with heart. They fought for their season and gave themselves a new reason to believe.

“I just wanted our guys to keep fighting through it,” Sitake said. “There were plenty of mistakes made but I think we were able to overcome it because of our belief and trust in each other. It just felt good to play football and get a win.”

Hall rebounded from two painful, early interceptions to pass for a career high 377 yards, adding another 82 yards on the ground and accounting for all four of BYU’s touchdowns.

Running back Hinckley Ropati broke out for 110 total yards on eight touches with a score, taking a screen pass from Hall 48 yards to the end zone for the junior college transfer’s first career BYU touchdown.

“I don’t know if you’re gonna be able to stop him from getting on the field now,” Sitake said of Ropati.

The victory brings BYU to 5-5 on the season, now just a win shy of reaching bowl eligibility in a campaign that was dangerously close to becoming a certified disaster had the Cougars failed in Boise.

More importantly, for the first time since defeating Baylor nearly two months ago, there’s a feeling of true optimism back in the air for BYU. Sure, October was a mess, but the Cougars are back in position to write their own story.

“Love and learn is a lot better when you’re winning,” Nacua said.

BYU now heads into a much-needed bye week before returning to Provo for its home finale against Utah Tech on Nov. 19.

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