Third-and-6 in overtime ... 30-27 lead over a ranked foe ... 60,000 fans going nuts.
These are the moments college football players dream of.
“We live for this,” BYU junior linebacker Kavika Fonua said. “It’s an amazing feeling to be with our brothers out there, going into the final minutes.”
Cougar sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson could only watch on the sideline as No. 24-ranked USC lined up for that critical third-down play. A touchdown meant a Trojan win, while a stop likely would’ve forced a game-tying field goal attempt.
“It was crazy,” Wilson said. “I remember thinking in my head right before the play, ‘how great would it be to have a turnover and win the game right here?’”
BYU senior defensive back Dayan Ghanwoloku said he expected USC to look for a quick throw, while Fonua said when the play started he was reading the quarterback to see where the ball was headed.
“I saw him look back into the middle,” Fonua said. “I wanted to pick it but instead I just tried to get a hand on it.”
Fonua pushed the ball away from intended Trojan receiver Drake London and off the helmet of Cougar sophomore linebacker Chaz Ah You. That deflection bounced it high enough for someone else to make a play.
“I was just running to the ball,” Ghanwoloku said. “The linebackers — Kavika and them — they made the play. I just saw the ball pop up. Coach always says that we’ve got to get tips and overthrows.”
As the ball tumbled through the air, Ghanwoloku left his feet to dive after it, cradling it in for the interception that sealed the 30-27 overtime upset for BYU and sparking a wild rush as Cougar fans stormed onto the field to celebrate.
“I’m proud that the defense was able to make a play,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said. “I feel fortunate to get this win. We made some plays. I was happy for our players and happy for our fans to get the win. As the head coach, I have the best view in the house. There were moments where I was just a fan enjoying what the other coaches were calling. I think our coaches and players did an amazing job.”
Ironically, Fonua said he didn’t know what had been the result of the play after the tipped.
“When the crowd rushed the field, I was jumping up and down,” Fonua said with a grin. “I tried to grab one person and said, ‘what happened!?’ I didn’t know what we were cheering for but something happened. I was just happy.”
The fans in Provo were jubilantly celebrating but there was one final matter of business. Just like in BYU’s 29-26 2OT win at Tennessee last week, the officials signaled that they would review the final play to determine if Ghanwoloku had caught the ball before it hit the ground.
“I knew I caught it,” Ghanwoloku said. “I knocked the wind out of myself to keep my hands underneath the ball to make sure I caught it. I was sure I caught it but you never know what is going to happen with the refs. I didn’t have any doubt that I caught it.”
Finally the official word was the interception would stand and the Cougars had indeed won their second straight overtime game.
That meant the BYU fans could get back to the serious business of celebrating.
“I was getting destroyed by the fans,” Wilson quipped. “I was taking harder hits in there than I did in the game.”
Cougar running back Ty’Son Williams — who finished with 99 yards on 19 carries — said having the fans rushing the field was a unique experience for him.
“I’ve never been a part of anything like it,” he said. “It was a great time. I knew they were excited like we were, so to share that with them was great.”
BYU players, coaches and fans have been through quite the range of emotions after back-to-back games that went to extra time — but the Cougars found ways to win both times.
“We worked on these situations a lot in camp and spring ball,” Sitake said. “We feel really comfortable with what we are doing as a group and have a lot of leadership on this team that believes in each other. It’s easy for me as a head coach to have guys who do it that I can lean on. Our guys are growing and getting better.”
Sitake said his heart hasn’t suffered because the outcome was in BYU’s favor.
“I can do this,” Sitake said. “If we win the game, I’m good. It was a lot of fun. Obviously we don’t want this to be a habit but obviously I’ll take it.”
In a back-and-forth, see-saw battle against the Trojans, the difference was just the fact that the Cougars made the final play.
“I just attribute it to the fight this team has,” Williams said. “No matter the score, no matter the time that is left on the clock, this team just keeps fighting and keeps fighting. It’s great just to be a part of a team like this.”