PROVO — It was a big play by a very big man.
Corbin Kaufusi’s second-quarter blocked field goal lit a fuse for a BYU football team that looked like it was still celebrating its upset at Wisconsin after the opening kickoff against McNeese State on Saturday.
That blocked field goal killed the visitors, who were hyped up, undefeated and led 3-0 at the time. No. 25 BYU defeated McNeese State 30-3.
Although BYU’s starting offense was a perfect five for five in red zone scoring in this game, this was a defensive victory for the Cougars, and Kaufusi had his share.
It was the kind of play BYU needed because Kalani Sitake’s team was in a funk. And it lead to an emotional explosion and immediate turn of momentum for the Cougars.
“We feel special teams can win games and make big plays,” said Kaufusi.
His big block came a few days after his paternal grandfather, Petelo Kaufusi, passed away in Salt Lake City. He was 79.
A humble immigrant from Tonga, Petelo sold his pigs and chickens in Tonga and moved his large family to Utah in 1972. It is here where his oldest of eight children, Steve, kicked off football careers of seven of his children at BYU and the University of Utah. Corbin is part of the second generation of Petelo’s bloodline, and he made the most of it on this sun-drenched afternoon.
In this game, four of his grandsons got to play, Corbin, Jackson, Isaiah and Corbin’s brother Devin.
“That was amazing,” said Corbin. “We were really happy that all of us were able to put up a performance for him because he loves BYU football.” Jackson and Isaiah are Corbin’s first cousins.
BYU came out against McNeese State like No. 13 Virginia Tech did when upset by FCS’s 0-3 Old Dominion on Saturday, an event that turned out to be a stunner on steroids.
In Provo, however, the Cougars turned things around after a paltry, scoreless first quarter. It was a span that saw BYU fumble a trick play, a pitch reverse to Micah Simon and first-of-the-season fumble by Squally Canada. He hadn’t lost the pigskin since his first BYU carry in the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl.
Fortunately for the No. 25-ranked Cougars, they put a stop to ugly quick.
“It was a matter of us working through it,” said quarterback Tanner Mangum.
Led by a fired-up defense, BYU’s offense exploded for 24-straight points in 15 minutes to tame and throttle the Cowboys from Louisiana.
Sitake witnessed enough missed assignments and missed communication out of his defense in the first quarter that he gathered players on the sideline and looked like he was going cardiac on them.
What followed was Kaufusi blocked a field goal. He later sacked McNeese QB James Tabary for a 9-yard loss, nickelback Tanner Jacobson got an interception and Michael Shelton forced a fumble, which Sawyer Powell recovered.
Those plays led to 24-straight BYU points. Linebacker Rhett Sandlin registered his first career interception to set up freshman Skyler Southam's 47-yard field goal, the longest by a Cougar kicker in eight seasons.
“I was just telling them how much I love them,” Sitake said of his sideline gathering early in the game.
Actually, said Kaufusi, Sitake challenged them to get back to having fun. “We didn’t have the energy we needed. When you make big plays, it produces energy and that is what we needed, to get back to having fun and making plays. I love it when he tells us that,” said Kaufusi.
Saturday’s takedown of the Cowboys may be considered the Cougars’ break of sorts in a September of Power 5 opponents.
Next up is a trip to Seattle to take on Chris Petersen’s Pac-12 favorites, ta-da … the Washington Huskies.
BYU will need to be far better in Seattle than it was in Provo this weekend.
Funny thing is, everyone said that about the Wisconsin game after losing to Cal at home.
Could it be the Cougars are simply better when they play out of suitcases like Tucson and Madison?
It looked that way Saturday.
“It’s hard to match the emotion and intensity we had last week,” said Sitake.
“Now, we’ve got to get back to work.”
It will take a labor force working overtime.