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BYU disappointed, but optimistic about future

BYU disappointed, but optimistic about future

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PROVO -- The BYU Cougars returned to Provo Saturday night disappointed after a hard-fought, but disheartening loss to the rival Utah Utes. Fans of both teams couldn't have asked for more (except BYU fans would have liked a victory) as the game was full of exciting plays and wild turnovers. In the end it was a matter of execution, and the game was decided by the last play of the game, something that is becoming very common in the annual Holy War.

"It was a hard-fought game that came down to the last play and we just couldn't make it happen," Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "There were a lot of mistakes on our side, but I have to credit Utah with playing a good game. It was a hard situation to be in."

BYU jumped out to an early lead in the first half, scoring field goals in the first and second quarter. The BYU defense looked strong early on, shutting out Utah in the first half. Utah went 2-8 on third downs and had a total of five first downs in the first half- even punting three consecutive drives. However, with 30 plays for 124 yards of total offense, Utah looked to be very capable of scoring.

BYU offense was stagnant as well, only being able to gain 120 yards on 34 plays. BYU quarterback Jake Heaps had a total of 73 passing yards, and the three-headed running attack of JJ Di Luigi, Bryan Kariya, and Josh Quezada was held to only 47 rushing yards on 19 attempts.

"We played our hearts out and things just happen like that," said Di Luigi. "We're disappointed that we lost. It was a big game that came down to the wire but it was a good game. I think we took advantage of all the opportunities that we had and I'm proud of my teammates."

The second half of the game saw a lot more action as turnovers and missed opportunities dictated the outcome of the game. Both teams were able to move the ball down field and put points on the scoreboard. Perhaps the best highlight of the game for BYU came in the third quarter on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Heaps to Luke Ashworth. Heaps finished the day completing 22-37 for 228 yards and one interception.

BYU turnovers kept Utah in the game heading into the fourth quarter. Down 16-0, they started to rally. Their first points came after a BYU fumble. The handoff between Heaps and Quezada was mishandled and Utah came up with the ball on the BYU 37-yard line. On the next play Utah wide receiver DeVonte Christopher made an acrobatic catch over the defender after tipping the ball to himself for Utah's first touchdown. Christopher's highlight reel catch even made it onto ESPN's Top Plays.

"It's very disappointing. They had turnovers too and things like that make the game," commented Di Luigi. "We felt like we had them. It's disappointing to lose like that."

After a BYU field goal, Utah ended up with the ball in BYU territory again after a punt that touched the leg of a BYU player was recovered by Ute Greg Bird. BYU had the chance to end the Utah drive when cornerback Brandon Bradley intercepted a pass, but then fumbled on the return.

But controversy still surrounds that fumble. Replay shows Bradley's knee was down, but replay officials apparently didn't see enough evidence to overturn the call on the field. And several plays later, Utah punched it in for its first lead of the game, 17-16.

BYU started their final drive with 4:21 left in the game on their own 21-yard line. With time winding down BYU was able to put together a solid drive on the arm of Heaps. With the ball on the Utah 25-yard line, BYU was in the position to win the game with a field goal. Again, BYU was unable to execute and the field goal was blocked.

"It was a dream," said senior kicker Mitch Payne. "That's something I've wanted my whole life. I'm glad I had the opportunity. It felt really good off my foot. I don't think the distance had anything to do with it. I wish I would have had the chance to see if it had gone through. We're all a little bit disappointed."

Although the regular season ended on a down note, BYU will be looking forward to playing in a bowl game and have a chance to redeem the heart-breaking loss. Mendenhall looks to it as a chance for continual improvement.

"We can only go up from here. It is a time for us to improve as we get ready to move forward."

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Kofi Friar


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