BYU senior defensive back Dayan Ghanwoloku could’ve easily gotten got up in the emotion and frustration after a tough break early in the fourth quarter of the 30-27 Cougar overtime win over No. 24 USC on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
With 10:45 left in a game that was tied at 17-17, Trojan freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis lofted a pass down the left sideline where Ghanwoloku was battling USC senior wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. for position.
As the pass came down, Pittman Jr. appeared to grab the back of Ghanwoloku’s jersey and pull him slightly out of the way as the receiver stepped on the sideline, then came back into the field of play to make the catch in the end zone.
The official on the sideline tossed his hat off (indicating the receiver left the field of play) and then threw a flag, but after a lengthy conference the referees decided the ruling on the field would be a touchdown and they would review the play.
In the end, the decision would be that Ghanwoloku forced Pittman out of bounds, making it legal for him to return to the field to make the reception for the 30-yard touchdown.
Was it the correct call? That’s debatable.
But more important was how Ghanwoloku chose to deal with that tough break.
“It was a pass interference but it’s like, on to the next play,” the Cougar senior said after the game. “I was like, I’m going to keep challenging you. I don’t care if the refs are going to give you that touchdown. I’m going to keep challenging you anyway.”
Ghanwoloku had the last say, making the game-winning interception in overtime while also having a rushing touchdown and nine total tackles.
“I just want to be a playmaker,” Ghanwoloku said. “Offense, defense, special teams, it doesn’t matter. I just want to go 100 percent. You just go make plays.”
The concept of bouncing back and making plays is something that has seemed to permeate the entire BYU football team in the last two weeks. It doesn’t matter the circumstances or whose number is called. It’s all about continuing to play with confidence.
“I was just proud of our players and the way they performed offensively, defensively and on special teams,” Cougar head coach Kalani Sitake said. “I thought we played really solid. I’m just really happy that our guys were able to execute.”
BYU did have some moments where it could’ve imploded but instead responded with big performances:
The Cougar defense surrendered a first-possession TD to the Trojans and looked overwhelmed during that drive. BYU then responded with a pair of interceptions that slowed the USC passing attack dramatically and set the Cougars up for 10 points of their own.
Late in the second quarter, BYU sophomore kicker Jake Oldroyd missed a 44-yard field goal that likely would’ve given the Cougars the lead and the momentum at the break. Oldroyd rallied to make two more field goals, including what turned out to be the final points in overtime on a 43-yard kick.
With the game tied at 17-17, BYU had the ball inside the USC 10-yard line but faced fourth-and-short. The Cougars sent in a package that included defensive back Austin Kafentzis at quarterback, defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga at fullback and Ghanwoloku at running back. After two mixups with the officiating, BYU finally ran the play with 22 guys piling on in the middle of the field. The final spot ended up short and the Cougars turned the ball over on downs, although at least one replay indicated the spot might have been incorrect. The BYU offense rallied to score 10 more points in regulation.
The examples could go on and on.
One of the biggest factors was that even when guys got hurt, the next guys were ready to step in and do their part. BYU had defensive starters like Zayne Anderson, Keenan Pili and Sawyer Powell all limited by injuries but other players answered the call.
“We were fortunate the first two weeks to not have so many injuries,” Sitake said. “In this one we got kind of banged up. I’m not sure how severe some of the injuries that we had are but we were able to go back to our depth that we were able to rely on and they all stepped up.”
No matter what happened, the Cougars proved it was all about refusing to stop believing they could win the game.
“Going to the end of the game, we had no doubt we were going to win it, just like at Tennessee,” BYU junior linebacker Kavika Fonua said.