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BYU overcomes a sluggish start, smashes UMass 51-9

BYU 51, UMass 9

PROVO — On an unseasonably warm afternoon in front of a smaller than usual crowd Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium, BYU came out sluggish and found itself trailing, 9-7, to UMass early in the second quarter.

Even at halftime, the Cougars were clinging to a 14-9 lead.

But big plays by BYU’s special teams and defense in the second half jump-started the Cougars, who steamrolled the Minutemen 51-9 before a crowd of 51,190 in the first meeting between the two teams.

BYU scored 44 unanswered points after falling behind early and outscored UMass over the final 30 minutes, 37-0. The Cougar defense limited the Minutemen to 115 yards of total offense in the second half.

“It was a matter of effort and just waking up. We came out lackadaisical and not really taking it too seriously,” said linebacker Francis Bernard, who scored on a 39-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter. “As soon as coach gave us a pep talk at halftime, that amped us up and we knew what we had to do in the second half."

“Kind of a slow start … but once we were able to settle down, good things happened. Once we started rolling, we kept it going,” said coach Kalani Sitake. “I was really pleased with all the points we put up in the second half. It would be nice to play that way the entire game, but we’ll take the win.”

With the win, BYU improved to 7-4 while UMass fell to 2-9.

The Cougar offense, playing once again without injured running back Jamaal Williams, turned to KJ Hall and defensive lineman/linebacker Harvey Langi. Hall picked up 101 yards on 18 carries and scored a touchdown while Langi ran for 56 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. Quarterback Taysom Hill ran for 81 yards and a touchdown. As a team, the Cougars gained 247 yards on the ground.

“We were confident going into the second half,” said Hill, who completed 19 of 31 passes for 171 yards. “We knew we had left some stuff out there. We moved the ball and we had a turnover that killed us.”

Early in the first half, the Minutemen capitalized on Cougar mistakes and made big plays.

UMass recovered a fumble by Hill inside its own territory and a few plays later scored on a 70-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Adam Ford to Bernard Davis. That put UMass up 6-0 after a missed PAT.

The Cougars took a 7-6 lead on the first play of the second quarter on an 11-yard touchdown run by Hall. But on the ensuing kickoff, UMass had a 51-yard return, setting up a 44-yard field goal by Logan Laurent. At that point, the Minutemen led, 9-7.

But BYU regained the lead with 5:22 left in the first half on Langi’s first career touchdown, on a 5-yard run, as the Cougars jumped ahead, 14-9.

To open the second half, BYU implemented the hurry-up offense and it scored on its opening drive on a 33-yard field goal by Rhett Almond.

Then the Cougars’ special teams went to work as Morgan Unga blocked a UMass punt. BYU took over on the Minuteman 19-yard line and scored a field goal to propel BYU to a 20-9 lead.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Cougars forced a turnover as Eric Takenaka forced and recovered a fumble.

BYU capitalized as Langi bulled into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown run. With 7:18 left in the third quarter, the Cougars seized a 27-9 advantage.

“I’m really happy with the special teams and how they created some turnovers,” Sitake said. “They gave us a spark.”

BYU added to its lead, 34-9, moments later when Bernard scored on his 39-yard interception return for a touchdown. It marked Bernard’s first career pick-six.

“The next thing I knew, the ball came right to me,” Bernard said. “As soon as I got the ball, I was dead tired. I was hoping and praying that my teammates would block for me.”

That run by Bernard impressed Langi.

“I thought he was going to come and take my spot. He juked out the quarterback,” Langi said. “I was like, ‘If he scores, they might put me back over there (on defense). When he scored, I was going crazy.”

Late in the game, BYU's special teams recovered another fumble on a kickoff and the Cougars tacked on another field goal.

BYU hosts Utah State Saturday (8:15 p.m. MST, ESPNU/2) in the regular-season finale.