LANDOVER, Md. – It’s starting to become a bad habit for BYU. For the third straight week, the Cougars staged a late rally, but fell short in a 35-32 loss to West Virginia at FedEx Field on Saturday.
With less than five minutes left in the game, the BYU offense had two different chances to drive down the field to take the lead. However, turnovers proved to be costly for the Cougars. An interception with over four minutes to go looked to doom any chances. But West Virginia coughed it up at the goal line on a fumble to give BYU one more shot.
After driving to the Mountaineer 28-yard line, BYU went for it all with just over a minute on the clock on a long pass for the end zone and the ball was tipped up just in front of the goal line and intercepted. West Virginia was able to run out the clock to hold on to the win.
BYU (1-3) out-gained West Virginia (3-0) 521 to 481 yards, but struggled with turnovers. The Cougars had three interceptions and one lost fumble. The Mountaineers capitalized on those, scoring 14 points off of turnovers. For BYU, every game this season has been decided by three points or less, with three losses coming by a combined seven points.
Both Jamaal Williams and Taysom Hill rushed for over 100 yards. Williams totaled 169 on 24 attempts with two touchdowns. Hill completed 23 of 35 passes for 241 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions to go with his 101 rushing yards. On the defense, Fred Warner totaled 14 tackles, nine solo. Butch Pau’u recorded his first career interception in addition to his five tackles.
West Virginia took control early in the game, scoring on its opening drive. Made up of big third and fourth down conversions, the Mountaineers put together 13 plays to reach the end zone. After their initial touchdown was called back due to an illegal formation penalty, they scored on a 6-yard rush with 9:22 on the clock, taking the early 7-0 lead.
For the first time this season, BYU scored a touchdown in the first quarter and on its first drive of the game. The Cougars had a couple of third down conversions to keep the drive alive. The first came from a 5-yard pass to Aleva Hifo. The second third down conversion came after facing first and 20, but the offense strung together a few plays, including a run from Williams to convert on third down. Facing a third down for the third time in this drive, Hill found Mitchell Juergens for a 25-yard reception and the touchdown. With 2:44 left in the first quarter, BYU tied the game 7-7.
In West Virginia’s ensuing drive, Pau’u intercepted a pass for the first time in his career. He then returned it 20 yards with 56 seconds to play in the first quarter, bringing back the offense onto the field.
Williams burst past the Mountaineers’ defense with a 56-yard run to set up the Cougars at first and goal. However, BYU was unable to find the end zone, settling for a 22-yard field goal. The Cougars took the 10-7 lead at the 14:17 mark in the second quarter.
The Mountaineers answered with a methodical drive, earning short gains to march down the field. After a 13-yard completion to reach first and goal, the BYU defense was unable to stop West Virginia. With 9:50 on the clock, the 2-yard rush into the end zone put the Cougars back down 14-10.
With less than three minutes to go in the first half, Hill was intercepted by West Virginia’s Rasul Douglas and returned the pick for a 55-yard touchdown to extend his team’s lead to 21-10.
After a season-long 50-yard kick return by Aleva Hifo, the offense was in good position to get to the end zone. A couple of big gains from Williams and Juergens got BYU close, but the Cougars ended up bringing out Rhett Almond to kick another field goal, this one a 25-yarder as the clock expired. BYU was down 21-13 heading into halftime.
BYU’s opening drive in the second half got things rolling for the offense. Hill hurdled over two defenders to cap off his 27-yard rush, putting the Cougars in the blue zone. For the second time this season, Williams reached the end zone on a 7-yard rush. Following a failed two-point conversion, BYU got within two points, 21-19, with 10:44 left in the third quarter.
The BYU defense faced fourth and short against the West Virginia offense with less than seven minutes to play in the third quarter. Quarterback Skyler Howard kept the ball to try to get the inches needed, but Harvey Langi and Logan Taele were able to stop him from even crossing the line of scrimmage, bringing out the BYU offense.
With 4:02 on the clock, the offense turned the ball back over to West Virginia. For the first time in his career, Williams lost a fumble. The Mountaineers took advantage of the turnover. After a 51-yard reception set up West Virginia in the blue zone, quarterback Howard rushed 5 yards for the touchdown, pushing the lead up to 28-19 with 2:32 on the clock.
Despite a punt that pinned at the 1-yard line from Jonny Linehan, the Mountaineers marched 99 yards to score another touchdown. A 32-yard pass set up West Virginia in the blue zone, which allowed the wide-open 9-yard touchdown reception. BYU was down 35-19 with 11:27 to play in the game.
A 14-yard reception by Colby Pearson set BYU up the blue zone and Williams scored his second touchdown of the day on a 3-yard rush with 9:19 left. However, the offense went for the two-point conversion again, which failed, making the score 35-25 in favor of West Virginia.
The Cougar defense had a huge three and out, forcing the Mountaineers to punt. Another big reception from Pearson put BYU in position to score. Hill found Moroni Laulu-Pututau for a 19-yard reception in the end zone, closing in on West Virginia’s lead, 35-32, with 5:55 to play.
With the Mountaineers facing another third down, a receiver dropped the pass, bringing out the punt team. On the first play of the drive, Hill overthrew Juergens, allowing Jeremy Tyler to intercept the pass and get the ball back to the Mountaineers offense with 4:15 left in the game.
At the BYU, West Virginia fumbled the ball on the snap. Francis Bernard recovered the fumble with 2:36 on the clock, giving the offense one last chance to win the game.
A pair of receptions over 20 yards by Nick Kurtz kept the Cougars’ hopes alive. However, Hill threw his third interception with one minute to play to seal the 35-32 win for the Mountaineers.
BYU returns home next week to face Toledo in LaVell Edwards Stadium on Friday at 8:15 p.m. MDT. The game will be televised live on ESPN2.
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