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3 takeaways from BYU’s latest loss, this time on the final play

The Cougars’ habits of fourth-down failures and faltering in key moments cost them in a 27-24 loss to East Carolina

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East Carolina Pirates Keaton Mitchell (2) shakes off a tackle from BYU’s Talan Alfrey (25) as he runs the ball for a touchdown during an NCAA college football game Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, in Provo, Utah.

East Carolina Pirates Keaton Mitchell (2) shakes off a tackle from BYU’s Talan Alfrey (25) as he runs the ball for a touchdown during an NCAA college football game Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, in Provo, Utah.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

After Friday night, Provo is Heartbreak City for a lot more than just those who suffer from dating woes.

BYU had its losing streak extended to four in excruciating fashion as the Cougars fell 27-24 to East Carolina when Pirates freshman Andrew Conrad hit a 33-yard field goal as time expired.

Here are three takeaways from the loss that dropped BYU to 4-5:

Fourth-down failures strike BYU again, in the worst ways

Three fourth-down plays in the fourth quarter went against BYU and were critical in the loss.

First, the offensive woes.

BYU had a nearly eight-minute drive end with no points two plays into the final quarter when Miles Davis was stuffed for no gain on a fourth-and-2 at the East Carolina 12.

At the time, the score was 24-24 and both teams were trading score for score.

Later in the quarter, after East Carolina missed a go-ahead field goal, BYU again faced a fourth-and-1 at its own 44, but Jaren Hall was stuffed for no gain.

What made it worse was that Hall appeared to pick up a first down on third down two snaps before, but it was negated by a Cougar holding penalty.

Those two offensive mishaps were ill-timed for a team that’s reeling, and eventually the Pirates made them pay.

The last fourth-down fail for BYU was the most heartbreaking.

After getting the ball back with just over two minutes to play, East Carolina faced a fourth-and-8 at the BYU 37 with under a minute to go.

The Pirates elected to go for the win.

ECU quarterback Holton Ahlers went deep with a pass, and while it was incomplete, BYU cornerback Kaleb Hayes was flagged for pass interference.

That set up Conrad’s game-winner, which came after East Carolina wound down the clock and lined up an attempt in the middle of the field.

BYU’s ploy to control time of possession didn’t pay off

Several times this season, BYU opponents have played keep away while controlling time of possession with long drives.

The Cougars tried to reverse that trend Friday night and had the ball for nearly eight minutes more than the Pirates.

BYU committed to establishing the run and ran for 244 yards, led by Lopini Katoa’s 116 yards on the ground.

Still, BYU’s run game broke down at key moments — like those fourth-down misses in the fourth — and the Cougars’ passing game — Jaren Hall threw for 144 yards — was never a consistent threat.

East Carolina, like so many teams before them in October, also made big play after big play against a struggling BYU defense and matched the Cougars score for score throughout the game.

The Pirates had chunk plays of 31, 51, 35, 26 and 21 on their first four scoring drives, including a 31-yard touchdown run from Keaton Mitchell, who ran for 176 yards and averaged 8.4 yards per carry.

While BYU showed perhaps a bit of improvement over its previous three losses — the Cougars made their own fourth-down stop in the fourth quarter deep in BYU territory — they still gave up 424 yards.

In the end, it was East Carolina making the critical plays in key moments more often that BYU.

Are BYU’s bowl hopes on life support?

With the loss, the Cougars are 4-5 and went 0-4 in October.

If BYU is going to make the postseason, they’ll have to win at least one game on the road.

Up next is a game at Boise State a week from Saturday. The Broncos are 5-2 after some early struggles.

The most winnable game is against FCS opponent Utah Tech after a bye week in BYU’s home finale.

The final regular-season game for BYU is at Stanford. 

While the Cardinal is 3-4, they have won two straight, including at Notre Dame, a team that beat BYU earlier this month.

In a season where BYU started 4-1 and was ranked in the Top 15, the likelihood of staying home during bowl season is a real possibility.