Cougars find their long-lost rushing attack, but fail to pick up the really important yards in 27-24 loss to East Carolina
Cougars pick up 244 rushing yards as Lopini Katoa and Miles Davis fill in admirably for injured leading rusher Chris Brooks
If somebody had told the BYU Cougars before their eventual 27-24 loss to East Carolina Friday night in front of 55,525 fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium that they would hold the Pirates to 27 points and put up 227 rushing yards themselves, they would have thought they would be the ones running wildly around the field at the end of the game to celebrate a streak-snapping win.
But as has been the case all season, nothing comes easy for head coach Kalani Sitake’s seventh team.
The Cougars got their running game going for the first time since the Baylor game back on Sept. 10, but faltered in other areas and swallowed their fourth-straight loss. Not since 2017, when it dropped seven straight, has BYU suffered this many losses in a row.
“We got ourselves out and I know that we are not going to fold. We are going to keep working and you are going to see improvements because that is the character of this team. Nobody imagined we would be in this situation this year. But it is what it is and we gotta respond as well as possible.” — BYU running back Lopini Katoa.
And it doesn’t get easier. The Cougars (4-5) are at Boise State next Saturday before getting a much-needed bye week.
With leading rusher Chris Brooks out with a hamstring injury, Lopini Katoa and Miles Davis stepped up admirably for the Cougars. Katoa had a season-high 116 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, while Davis ran 11 times for 46 yards.
Quarterback Jaren Hall picked up 60 on eight carries, but it was a long run on third-and-3 negated by an iffy holding penalty on Kingsley Suamataia that BYU fans won’t soon forget.
“It hurts more because all the good efforts are (for naught),” Katoa said. “It is bittersweet.”
The irony is that when the Cougars really, really need a couple yards on the ground, they couldn’t get them. Hall was snuffed on a 4th-and-1 quarterback sneak, and Davis was held to no yards on 4th-and-2 from the ECU 12 when the Cougars probably should have settled for a field goal to take a 3-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
“It is tough. Those are times where us as running backs, we like to have pride, and like to get the ball in those short yardage situations,” Katoa said. “But we didn’t pick up (first downs) when we needed to. So it is tough.”
Another time, on third-and-2 from their 17, the Cougars opted for a short pass to tight end Masen Wake, but it fell incomplete on what could be argued was the most important possession of the season.
“Obviously, when it is in the moment (it stings),” Katoa said. “It is just one play at a time, and do your job, get it done. But everybody knows we are trying to get back on track; Yeah, it was a huge moment for us.”
Katoa said the Cougars worked on their running game in practice all week, and “definitely wanted to establish the run game and pick it up from where it has been the past few weeks.”
Center Connor Pay replaced Joe Tukuafu in the starting lineup after losing that spot a few weeks ago, and the Cougars seemed to get better push than in a month, with the exception of the play in which Hall was stuffed.
“It was just good running behind the big fellas. They played great. They worked hard,” Katoa said. “They have plays they want back like all of us do. But yeah, proud of the big fellas up front.”
Katoa said he was on the team in 2017 when the Cougars won just four games, but feels like this is a far more talented bunch.
“It is weird. When I first got here, we experienced similar adversity and it has kinda come full circle,” he said “And it is weird, because there is so much talent and potential. The potential of this team is huge. It is a weird feeling.
“There are a lot of guys who were here when we were in a slump,” he continued. “We got ourselves out and I know that we are not going to fold. We are going to keep working and you are going to see improvements because that is the character of this team. Nobody imagined we would be in this situation this year. But it is what it is and we gotta respond as well as possible.”