When playing the final college football home game of the season against an FCS opponent, the hope is that the seniors would make the most of their last game in the familiar confines.
It couldn’t have gone much better for many of the BYU seniors during Saturday’s 42-10 romp over Idaho State at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
“Our players played hard and gave our seniors what they needed, a win for our last game at home,” Cougar head coach Kalani Sitake said. “Thank you to all of our fans for being here to support us, being loud and having a lot of energy. The seniors get really emotional and the rest of the team does as well. The time went by really fast for a lot of them, so it was an emotional time for a lot of them. There were some mistakes made but for the most part the guys worked and played hard.”
There was BYU senior wide receiver Micah Simon taking the ball on a jet sweep and scoring from 12 yards out for the first rushing touchdown of his Cougar career.
There was BYU senior defensive lineman JJ Nwigwe, who broke through the line to stop Bengal running back Soujah Gasu for a loss on fourth-and-1, giving the Cougars the ball on the turnover-on-downs.
There was BYU senior wide receiver Talon Shumway making a pair of highlight-reel grabs in the end zone, helping the Cougars pull away.
There was Cougar senior safety/cornerback Dayan Ghanwoloku snagging a tipped ball for an interception and making some nifty moves to get up field before running into BYU junior defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga (Tonga would cap the drive with 2-yard touchdown plunge, likely the biggest Cougar player to ever get a rushing TD).
“I wanted to give all my all for my family, my teammates and the fans,” Ghanwoloku said. “I’m going to miss the fans. They are not like other people. With BYU fans, you just feel loved. One of the things I’m going to miss most is the atmosphere.”
Perhaps the best memories, however, would belong to BYU senior safety Austin Lee.
Lee was able to come out of the tunnel for the last time in Provo with his two kids joining him.
“It was awesome,” Lee said. “You never really think that you are going to be in this position but it’s harder now that it’s gone. It was a big blessing to come out here and make those types of memories and reflect upon all of the memories I have in this stadium. It was really special to be out there with my boy and to make memories with him.”
He then went out and on Idaho State’s second possession, he tracked a ball that was tipped in the air by Cougar defensive back Chris Wilcox and brought it in for the interception.
Lee then weaved his way back down field, picking up blockers and finding a lane to the end zone for the 26-yard pick-6 to give BYU its first points.
“I thank my Heavenly Father and Chris Wilcox,” Lee said. “Chris was really the one who made the play happen. Seeing the run-pass option look, Chris was able to break up that pass in his first game back. The ball just floated to my hands and I got some key blocks.”
Ghanwoloku said it was a special moment for him to see his friend and teammate make that play.
“I was hyped for him because I know he has been trying to get one,” Ghanwoloku said. “He should of had a couple this year but I was really hyped when I saw him go into the end zone. He deserves it for sure. He’s always in the right place at the right time.”
Even though the end results — a win and a good game for the seniors — were what BYU wanted, the Cougars still had plenty of things they wanted to do better.
“Some guys made mistakes and they have to own up to it and be responsible for the mistakes that they made,” Sitake said. “I think that’s the only way you can do it.”
BYU sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson was 19-of-31 for 187 yards and two touchdowns with one interception in his first game in a month and a half.
“He’s been gone a long time and we were trying to get him in the swing of things,” Sitake said. “Even though he’s been a starter for a lot of games, it was shaking the rust off a little bit and giving him an opportunity to figure things out.”
The Cougars were disappointed in the number of flags (12 penalties for 85 yards) and lack of consistent execution on the offensive side of the ball.
“We got the win and overall we did some good things,” Wilson said. “We didn’t start well or have a great second half but we had a lot of promising drives and scored 42 points as a team.”
The BYU offense did get a big game from freshman running back Sione Finau (102 yards on 16 carries with one touchdown) and freshman wide receiver Keanu Hill made some nice catches late in the game (3 receptions for 40 yards).
The Cougar victory gave BYU a four-game win streak and made it bowl eligible. BYU director of athletics Tom Holmoe officially accepted the invitation from the Hawaii Bowl on behalf of the Cougars after the game.
“I’m really thankful for the position we are in right now,” Sitake said. “We have a little bit of a streak going and so we are looking forward to getting No. 7 next week.”