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Cougars rally around coach to knock off No. 14 Boise State

With backs to the wall, BYU raced to a 28-10 lead over Boise State and held on to upset the No. 14 Broncos with aggressive plays, decisions.

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The Brigham Young Cougars celebrate their win over the Boise State Broncos in NCAA football in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. At front is Brigham Young Cougars defensive lineman Devin Kaufusi.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

PROVO —  Win one for Kalani.

BYU’s dramatic upset of No. 14 Boise State — a task most of the football world believed impossible — became a done deed late Saturday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

BYU 28, Boise State 25.

And for most of the game, it wasn’t that close.

“I don’t know why our team plays great some times and horrible other times. This was a collective team effort. Our team needed it and went out and got it.” — BYU tight end Matt Bushman

This was a decisive push forward for BYU, a proud program struggling to find its identity in 2019 after two steps backward. The 3-4 Cougars now take the week off to heal, light years closer to a bowl game than they were a week ago after losing two quarterbacks in three games.

If there is any question how BYU players feel about their head coach, this win is Exhibit A from this Jekyll and Hyde team.

With a heavy cloud of criticism looming over an injury-laden team and its reeling coaching staff, BYU took on the MWC leaders under the worst of circumstances — the debate over Sitake’s contract extension lingering in the air before kickoff. Sitake reacted by yanking out all the stops on this cold, windy, rain-filled night, and the Cougars held on to defeat the previously undefeated Broncos in a dramatic nail-biter.

The foundation of Saturday’s upset began in Tampa, Florida, when Sitake vowed to rattle the cage and make changes. He decided to go out swinging.

And swing he did.

In a Monday team meeting, reports say he shed his reserved, lovable persona and his squad saw the full neck blood vessel bulging angry, bent for war. His team saw the emotional Sitake. He poured out his soul before his coaches and players after blowing a lead in a second straight loss to a Group of 5 team.

He then reportedly took over play-calling duties from his longtime friend and defensive coordinator Iliaisa Tuiaki and stuck his nose in every position meeting and huddle. In one week, he installed blitzes, six- and seven-men defensive fronts, which is his background.

He demanded the offense be more aggressive and put Boise State’s defense on its heels.  He said offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes decided he would be on the field for the first time in two years to work with young offensive linemen after three starters were out with injuries and a third, lost for the season.

The results were impressive.

“I didn’t do anything,” Sitake said. “The players worked hard and the assistant coaches worked their tails off and had a good game plan. We were aggressive.”

Sitake said play-call duties were a “collaborative effort,” after the game when asked if he had taken over.

BYU just doesn’t beat Boise State. Neither does Utah. The Utes have lost four in a row to the Broncos and won’t play them unless there’s a tie-in. 

BYU built a 28-10 lead against Boise State, then hung on for a victory that featured Baylor Romney completing 15 of 26 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns, a 154.5 efficiency rating and freshman Sione Finau rushing 89 yards on 11 carries, including a 46-yarder on the longest TD run of the season. Lopini Katoa gained 37 on 12 carries.

Tight end Matt Bushman had a pair of touchdown catches, both coming in a 21-point third quarter, busting season-long red-zone futility. Sitake is a perfect 7-0 when his team can get 21 points in a quarter.

This is a team that has proven it can knock off ranked Wisconsin in Madison, beat USC and Tennessee, but really fought letdowns in finishing off Toledo and South Florida.

Isaiah and Jackson Kaufusi both had interceptions and Dayan Ghanwoloku registered a corner blitz sack while tackle Lorenzo Fauatea had another. This from a defense that ranked 124th nationally in sacks at .83 a game.

Starved for a win, Sitake’s team celebrated hard and long after the upset.

It had been a long time coming. Too long.

Beating BSU gave Sitake a win over a regional rival, something he’s struggled to do.

But beating the Broncos has to inject new life into not only the Cougars but Sitake.

This feat alone is a rarity for any BYU team the past 20 years. Under any circumstances, be it with stars John Beck, Taysom Hill, Jamaal Williams and a lot of others in between, it just isn’t done often. This time it came with third-string offensive linemen, a third-string running back leading the team in rushing, and a third-string QB in Romney in his first career start.

All those factors made this seem an impossible win to get.

“It was great, it was definitely something our team needed. Coming off a three-game losing streak we believed we were good if not better. It came in one of the worst weather conditions for football you can get,” said Bushman.

“I don’t know why our team plays great some times and horrible other times. This was a collective team effort. Our team needed it and went out and got it,” said Bushman.

“Our game plan was to come out and be aggressive,” said Romney.

This was never more apparent than at the end of the game when Sitake decided to go for a fourth-and-1 at BYU’s 35 with just over two minutes left in the game and Boise State’s offense seemingly scoring at will on the Cougars, who’d given up 42 points in the fourth quarter the past three weeks.

On that play, Austin Kafentzis ran a QB sneak into a stacked power formation for the game-clinching first down.

“When we put it together, we can compete with anyone,” said Bushman.

And you know, they have also proved they can lose to about anyone when they do not put it together. Toledo and South Florida got killed by Ball State and Navy on Saturday.

This time BYU did beat someone, the highest-ranked team they had faced all season. USC was ranked 24th and when the Cougars beat them in September.

“When our backs are against the wall, we responded,” said Sitake. “We got aggressive, we got two picks and we should have had three more to tell you the truth.”

Indeed.