TOLEDO — The emotions of BYU football players, coaches and fans were yanked around like a yo-yo in the final minutes of Saturday’s wild game at Toledo:
Yo-yo down: With the game tied at 21-21, the Cougars allowed the Rockets to convert two third-down conversions to drive into range of a potential game-winning field goal.
Yo-yo up: After a 12-yard run by Toledo sophomore running back Bryant Koback, BYU sophomore lineback Chaz Ah You ripped the ball free and collected it for a huge turnover.
Yo-yo down: On the very next play, Cougar sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson thought he spotted senior wide receiver Aleva Hifo open down the middle of the field but the ball ended up going right to Rocket senior safety Kahlil Robinson, who picked it off and returned it 40 yards to the BYU 2-yard line.
Not only did that set up a 2-yard touchdown run by junior running back Shakif Seymour that gave Toledo the lead, Wilson suffered a thumb injury and went to the locker room.
Yo-yo up: Cougar freshman quarterback Jaren Hall drove BYU 43 yards to the Rocket 32-yard line, giving the Cougar faithful a glimmer of hope that BYU might be able to pull off one final miracle.
Yo-yo down: Hall’s Hail Mary pass sailed out of bounds, ending the game as Toledo secured the 28-21 win.
“Give credit to Toledo,” Cougar head coach Kalani Sitake said. “They made more plays than we did and the score shows it. I thought it was a tough battle but they converted on fourth downs and we didn’t. They made their field goals and we didn’t. As a coach, I need to do what is best for the team and figure things out and try to get us playing our best.”
There was no immediate word on the extent of Wilson’s injury, but Sitake said the initial reports indicate it is severe enough to keep him out of the next game at South Florida on Oct. 12.
“We’re still evaluating it,” Sitake said. “I don’t know the time frame but it looks like he is probably going to be out for a little bit. How long that is? We’ll still have to get some more opinions on it and everything. We’ll have to be ready for that.”
The play where Wilson got hurt was the biggest one of the game, since the BYU defense had just come up with a devastating turnover and given the Cougar offense a chance to win the game.
“Chaz played a good game,” BYU senior cornerback Dayan Ghanwoloku said. “Playmakers make plays and he is a playmaker. We’ve got to have a lot more of that in all four quarters. We have to do a better job..”
Sitake said he didn’t consider just sitting on the ball and playing for overtime, given the circumstances.
“I thought there was enough time,” Sitake said. “There was a little under a minute left and we had three timeouts. We had been throwing the ball pretty well and getting some yardage on them. With the time left, I thought it was good for us to go for it. Obviously they made a big play on it and got the interception that cost us.”
But when the ensuing pass went awry, suddenly it was the Cougars dealing with the devastation of a costly turnover.
“It was a huge swing of emotion, from happiness from our defense getting the ball back and then that happened,” BYU senior wide receiver Micah Simon said. “I was confident that we were going to move the ball down, but it happened and they got that pick. Then it was frustration — but we had to stay ready for when we got the ball back.”
Even though the Cougars had their backs to the goal line, they weren’t just going to let the Rockets score to try and get the ball back to the BYU offense.
“We’re not going to just let them score,” Ghanwoloku said. “We wanted to get the stop but we didn’t. It was a good run by their running back, a physical run.”
The Cougars did end up getting one last gasp to force overtime but unlike the big plays against Tennessee and USC, this time it didn’t work out for BYU.
Unlike the other games this season, the Cougars actually appeared to be in control early in the second half after a 75-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Hifo gave BYU a 14-3 lead.
But Toledo’s offense started moving the ball and answered every Cougar score to keep the outcome in the balance.
“They did a lot of similar things in the first half,” Sitake said. “They threw the comebacks more and did a little more of the RPOs, but they also trusted their run game. They kept trying to force-feed it to their running backs and we didn’t do enough to force the issue as much as we wanted.”
That set up the dramatic final minutes where the Rockets were the ones to close things out.
“It’s hard but that’s the game,” Sitake said. “They made the play and we didn’t. They are a really good team and I think they are going to do some damage in their conference play, but we didn’t really help ourselves with the mistakes that we made.”
Now the Cougars have two weeks to get healthier and look to work on the issues that have been plaguing them in the first month.
“We’ve got a lot of work to get done,” Sitake said. “We’ve got a bye week, so we have to evaluate a lot of things and get better before we go to South Florida for the next game.”