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BYU earns another OT win — Cougars knock off No. 24 USC, 30-27

Seven days after defeating Tennessee in double OT at Neyland Stadium in improbable fashion, BYU rallied again, this time from a 24-17 deficit in the fourth quarter. It marked the program’s first home victory over a ranked team since 2015, when the Cougars defeated No. 20 Boise State. 

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1) dives for a touchdown against the USC Trojans in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. BYU won 30-27 in overtime.
Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1) dives for a touchdown against the USC Trojans in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. BYU won 30-27 in overtime.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

PROVO — This BYU football season is turning into a high-wire act, filled with clutch plays, unconventional decisions, crazy moments, dramatic endings and memorable fan celebrations. It’s must-see TV.

For the Cougars, it was another week, another come-from-behind overtime victory over a storied Power Five program in front of a national television audience.

“It was a lot of fun,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake, who may have aged 15 years the past couple of weeks. “Obviously, you don’t want this to be a habit.”

In the end, BYU defensive back Dayan Ghanwoloku intercepted a deflected pass in OT as the Cougars knocked off No. 24 USC, 30-27, on a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

“I was just running to the ball,” Ghanwoloku said. “I saw the ball pop up.”

And Ghanwoloku, who was seemingly all over the field Saturday, dove for the ball and cradled it to seal the win.

Seven days after defeating Tennessee in double OT at Neyland Stadium in improbable fashion, BYU rallied again, this time from a 24-17 deficit in the fourth quarter. It marked the program’s first home victory over a ranked team since 2015, when the Cougars defeated No. 20 Boise State.

For BYU, the win was so nice, fans rushed the field twice.

How are the Cougars winning these games?

“I attribute it to the fight this team has,” said running back Ty’Son Williams, who rushed 19 times for 99 yards. “No matter the score, no matter the time that’s left on the clock, this team keeps fighting. It’s great to be part of a team like this.”

When the Trojans (2-1) took a seven-point lead with 10:45 remaining on a controversial touchdown catch by Michael Pittman, it appeared the Cougars (2-1) could be staring at their second home loss to a Pac-12 opponent this season.

But BYU narrowed the deficit to 24-20 with 8:13 remaining on Jake Oldroyd’s 32-yard field goal.

Then, after the Cougar defense forced a punt, quarterback Zach Wilson engineered a couple of magical plays.

On first down, he zigzagged all over the field before finding Gunner Romney all alone for a 35-yard completion.

“We had some pressure come from the right side and I was able to get away from it a little bit. I remember looking up and seeing Gunner wide open,” said Wilson, who completed 20 of 33 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown. “Honestly, it was a terrible throw, but it was a great job by him coming back and high-pointing it. It was a huge play in the game. I was happy for Gunner that he was able to come down with that catch.”

Two plays later, Wilson scored on a 16-yard quarterback draw to put BYU ahead, 27-24 with 5:41 left.

“It was a great play-call,” Wilson said. “We had the perfect design to have the quarterback run up the middle.”

“He’s still kind of in some learning moments but he’s learning really quick,” coach Kalani Sitake said of Wilson. “He’s got an amazing football IQ. He’s got a great supporting cast helping him. He has a work ethic that is second to none. You match him up with our O-line, our backs, our receivers and tight ends and I think we have something special happening.”

But USC tied the game with 1:48 on the clock on a 52-yard field goal by Chase McGrath.

In overtime, BYU’s offense had the opening possession and Oldroyd kicked a 43-yard field goal to give the Cougars a 30-27 advantage.

On third-and-6 from the 21, USC freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis’ pass was deflected by Kavika Fonua and Ghanwoloku made the game-ending interception.

“I wanted to pick it but instead I tried to get a hand on it,” Fonua said. “Luckily, Dayan was there to pick it.”

Immediately after the turnover, Cougar fans rushed the field. The officials had to clear the field as the play was reviewed. When the officials announced that the interception was confirmed, the fans stormed the field again to celebrate.

“I remember thinking before that play, ‘How great would it be to have a turnover and end the game right here?’ Dayan made a great play,” Wilson said. “When you see the pick, you think, ‘Is that it? Is that the game?’ You don’t start celebrating. You see everyone come on the field but (the officials) have to review it. It’s a split-second of, ‘Is the game over yet?’”

When it was finally over, the fans formed a mosh pit on the field. “I took harder hits in there than I did in the game,” Wilson said.

BYU’s first touchdown of the game came midway through the first quarter in unusual fashion. On third-and-1 from the USC 1-yard line, safety Austin Kafentzis took a snap and gave it Ghanwoloku, who followed defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga into the end zone to tie the game at 7-7.

That TD was set up by a diving interception by freshman linebacker Payton Wilgar.

In the second quarter, the Cougars jumped to a 17-10 lead on a 30-yard touchdown strike from Wilson to Dax Milne.

The game was tied 17-17 at halftime and neither team could score in the third quarter. Near the end of the period, BYU decided to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Trojan 9-yard line but failed to convert.

“I was being selfish and I wanted to get the first down,” Sitake explained. “Being honest, that was a fan moment for me. A lot of regrets from that one.”

USC promptly marched downfield and seized a 24-17 lead on a 30-yard TD pass from Slovis to Pittman. Pittman and Ghanwoloku were fighting for position in the end zone and Pittman came up with the catch.

“I thought it was offensive P.I.,” Sitake said, “but whatever.”

BYU’s defense, which had a few starters sidelined due to injury, gave up 452 yards of total offense but it was also able to force three interceptions.

“Anytime you have three turnovers to the other team and you’re on the road, that’s going to put you in a hole,” said USC coach Clay Helton.

For the Cougars, the thrilling triumph gives them more momentum as they prepare to face another Pac-12 foe, Washington, next week at home.

“This is such a big win for us,” Wilson said. “I’m so proud of this team for battling.”