Fourth-and-2 at the 41-yard line … seven-point game … pressure rising … momentum in the balance.
That was the situation for the BYU football team Saturday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium against Liberty. The Cougar offense was in Flame territory but had come up short of the line to gain by a couple of yards.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake elected to risk it and go for the first down with the Cougars dialing up an out-route to BYU senior wide receiver Aleva Hifo.
Hifo broke a tackle near the marker, then saw nothing but green grass in front of him as he sprinted into the end zone for a monumental 41-yard touchdown.
That turned out to be the biggest score of the game for the Cougars, who barely managed to hold off a determined Liberty effort but still got the 31-24 win.
The BYU offense never found the same rhythm that it had in a big win at Utah State last week but still managed enough chunk plays to get points on the board.
It started on the first Cougar drive after the Flames scored on their opening possession.
BYU freshman quarterback Baylor Romney spotted senior wide receiver Micah Simon running deep and hit him for a 47-yard gain.
That set up a 2-yard TD screen pass from Romney to Simon to tie things up.
After a Cougar field goal, BYU got back in the end zone on a trick play as Romney threw a backward pass to Simon, who then lofted the ball to junior tight end Matt Bushman.
The pass was a little short but Bushman managed to haul it in, avoid a diving tackle by the Flame safety and run the final few yards for the 44-yard score.
But most of the next few drives were killed by Cougar errors, including some costly penalties and a pair of turnovers.
The exception was the fourth-down conversion by Hifo that turned into the third BYU touchdown of the contest.
Liberty showed toughness by staying close enough to be dangerous, including getting a 24-yard field goal and a 41-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Stephen Calvert to senior wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden in the third quarter.
But the Cougars added another important touchdown early in the fourth quarter as Romney directed a nine-play, 68-yard drive. It was capped by a 16-yard TD pass from Romney to senior tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau.
Again the Flames answered with a touchdown drive of their own, meaning BYU had to come up with big plays on one final drive to close out the win.
Leading by just a touchdown, the Cougars got to midfield before facing a dangerous third-and-11 with under four minutes left in the game. Romney rolled to his right and fired a bullet to senior wide receiver Talon Shumway on the near sideline.
Shumway hauled it in right at the first-down marker, giving BYU a chance to run more time off the clock.
The last decision for the Cougars came with 1:35 left to play on a fourth-and-2. BYU elected to fake a field goal and Liberty wasn’t fooled at all, getting the stop to get the ball back.
The Cougar defense proved to be up to the challenge, holding the Flames on fourth-and-21 their own 39-yard line to secure the win.
With the win, BYU improved to 5-4 on the year and put together its first three-game winning streak of the season.