FORT COLLINS, Colo. — In a shootout, it's good to have the biggest guns — and that spelled the difference for No. 17 BYU against Colorado State.
The explosive combination of quarterback Max Hall, tight end Dennis Pitta, wide receiver Austin Collie and running back Harvey Unga proved to be too much for the Rams.
Hall connected with Pitta on a game-winning 17-yard touchdown strike with 22 seconds remaining as the Cougars edged CSU, 45-42, Saturday at Hughes Stadium.
"When the game's on the line, you go to guys who you can trust, guys you know can make plays," Pitta said. "Every team relies on those guys to step up in big situations. Austin, Max and myself, we were able to rise to the occasion and make plays for our team."
With 1:44 left in the contest, after an interception by Hall, the Rams scored to seize a 45-38 advantage as CSU quarterback Billy Farris hit Dion Morton for a 55-yard touchdown. But as it turned out, the Rams
gave the Cougars plenty of time to rally. And they did, orchestrating a six-play, 76-yard drive.
"It was intense," Collie said of BYU's final offensive possession.
"I felt pretty confident going out there," Hall said. "By that time in the game, late in the fourth quarter, I knew exactly what they were going to run, I knew exactly what coverages they were going to do, and that's what they did. We were able to take advantage of it."
Then came the final play, when Hall found Pitta.
"It was a great call by our offensive coordinator (Robert Anae)," Pitta said. "Max put it right where it had to be — high and away. The defender was there, but I was able to make a play on it and barrel into the end zone."
Collie torched the CSU secondary, catching nine passes for 156 yards and three first-half touchdowns. In the second half, though, the Rams focused on Collie and left Pitta open. In the second half alone, Pitta caught 10 passes for 156 yards and two TDs. He finished with 12 receptions for 175 yards.
"They made a halftime adjustment and left me open in the middle," Pitta said. "We had to take advantage of that in the second half. Pick your poison. If you take away the outside, we're going to get you up the middle."
"Austin's a stud," Hall said. "Even when they double-team him, he still finds a way to get open. He's a big-time playmaker and a go-to guy. Both he and Dennis had big-time games tonight. It's nice for me to have guys like that to play with."
"Dennis is a tremendous athlete. He's an unbelievable tight end," Collie said. "When there's a little bit of attention drawn on me, or a little bit of attention drawn on Harvey, or whoever, there's always going to be another guy that's going to make plays. And Dennis is that guy."
BYU accumulated 551 yards of total offense and scored 21 fourth-quarter points, including a 40-yard TD run by Unga, who gained 133 yards on 23 carries.
"(BYU's) got a great offense. You've gotta give it to them," said CSU quarterback Billy Farris, who threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns. "They're a great team, a great offense. They played really well.
"That's the way it happens sometimes. It just hurts when you're that close to beating a ranked team or an elite team in our conference and it just doesn't happen for you. So it's just heartbreaking."
"It was a football game that was definitely winnable," said Rams' coach Steve Fairchild. "We certainly played hard. I think our kids really believed they could beat BYU. We just didn't do enough to get it done. Having said all that, it's a loss, and we feel bad about it."
While the Cougar offense rolled up the points, it wasn't perfect. In fact, it gave the Rams their first touchdown in the opening minutes when Hall fumbled a snap out of the shotgun. CSU linebacker Mychal Sisson scooped it up and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown.
The BYU defense, meanwhile, was porous at times as the Rams scored on a variety of trick plays and big plays.
That aside, Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall was happy with the outcome.
"People will look at the score and will not think they improved. But I think they improved," Mendenhall said of the defense. "I think they played the run decently, and they made some critical plays in coverage.
"We have to defend a couple of gadget plays better. That's usually a good sign, when it takes gadget plays to score points. But we weren't close on them. We have to learn to do that better. It's literally step-by-step with these kids as we help them grow and learn."
BYU defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen said despite the miscues, the defense made plays when it needed to.
"A big part of what (CSU) did against us was mistakes and penalties, trick plays, not playing our assignments on trick plays. There were a couple of times when they did move the ball on us well against us and I've got to give the credit to them. We know we have to get better, but we made the plays we needed to to win."
With 22 seconds left, the Rams took over at their own 20-yard line with one last shot at an upset. On first down, Jorgensen sacked Farris for a nine-yard loss, knocking the ball out of his hands. CSU recovered, but it left only 13 seconds on the clock.
"I was just coming off the edge and coming around fast," Jorgensen said. "(Farris) reached back to throw the ball, and I knocked it out of his hands. His hand hit me right in the face mask. So, I just have to give the credit to the guys around me covering. They did a great job allowing me to get there."
How would Jorgensen describe the game?
"Crazy. I think that is the best way to sum it up," he said. "It was a crazy game. Both teams just left it all out on the field, and that's why you play football — for opportunities of playing in games like this."
BYU 45 COLORADO STATE 42