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Amid an abundance of storylines on Senior Day, Cougars expect hard-fought game with Utah Tech

Trailblazers of the FCS ranks have won 3 straight games and have had the matchup ‘circled’ for several years, BYU coach Kalani Sitake says

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BYU quarterback Jaren Hall throws under pressure against Boise State Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in Boise, Idaho.

BYU quarterback Jaren Hall throws under pressure against Boise State Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in Boise, Idaho. Saturday could well be the last time Hall plays a game at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Steve Conner, Associated Press

Weber State traveled up the road to Logan and stunned Utah State 35-7 two months ago, a win for an FCS program over an FBS team that has only gotten more impressive in November because the left-for-dead Aggies are a win away from bowl eligibility.

OK, but what does that have to do with the BYU Cougars, who are also 5-5 and trying to get bowl eligible?

Plenty, head coach Kalani Sitake has been saying this week as BYU prepares to host Utah Tech at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday in what will likely be the final home game for stars such as Puka Nacua and Jaren Hall.

“If you watch teams play from the FCS level, it is not uncommon to see (them) beat an FBS level team. So we see it, even on film, when we got ready for Utah State, what Weber State did to them.” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake

If the Wildcats can topple the Aggies, the Trailblazers can take down the Cougars, Sitake has warned. Kickoff for the first-ever meeting between BYU and Utah Tech is at 1:30 p.m., moments after up to 37 Cougars are honored on Senior Day for their contributions to the program.

The game will be televised by BYUtv and streamed on ESPN3.

“This is a game that they have had circled, and they are excited to end their year here, to come into LaVell Edwards Stadium and play in a big stadium,” Sitake said Monday. “… Their guys will be fired up and excited. We will get their best shot, and that’s what we expect. My job is to make sure they get our best shot as well.”

About a month ago, Utah Tech — in its third season as an FCS program after making the jump from Division II in 2020 — didn’t appear capable of giving the Cougars much of a game, even as BYU went 0-4 in October after holding off Utah State 38-26 at the end of September.

Well, the Trailblazers have changed. The turnaround for fourth-year head coach Paul Peterson’s crew began on Oct. 22 when they took Sam Houston (5-3) to the wire in an 18-13 loss at Greater Zion Stadium in St. George. Then Utah Tech stunned No. 19 Stephen F. Austin 47-44 in Texas, got revenge over Southern Utah 48-36 for an earlier loss to the T-Birds in Cedar City, and defeated Tarleton State 34-28 last week at home while the Cougars were enjoying a much-needed week off.

“They have every bit of our attention,” BYU defensive back George Udo said Tuesday. “They have a very, very good offense. They have some transfers (from FBS schools), including a really good quarterback (Victor Gabalis, Washington State).”

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Washington State quarterback Victor Gabalis, who is now the quarterback at Utah Tech throws against Central Michigan in El Paso, Texas, Friday, Dec. 31, 2021. Gabalis and the upstart Trailblazers will visit LaVell Edwards Stadium for a matinee matchup this Saturday.

Andres Leighton, Associated Press

Sophomore receiver Joey Hobert leads all of FCS in receiving yards (1,158), receiving yards per game (115.8) and receiving touchdowns (14). Sophomore RB Quali Conley ran for 215 yards against Tarleton State to become the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher in a season since it made the move up.

“If you watch teams play from the FCS level, it is not uncommon to see (them) beat an FBS level team. So we see it, even on film, when we got ready for Utah State, what Weber State did to them,” Sitake said.

The coach said Monday the Cougars would not overlook Utah Tech for several reasons, including the opportunity to get bowl eligible, but also because it is Senior Day and nobody wants to get upset by a lower division team in their home finale.

“We just have to keep working and not worry about what everybody else expects,” Sitake said. “I expect our guys to play their best on Saturday. That’s the focus.”

Cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford said he only had to show his guys a few minutes of Utah Tech tape to convince them that the Trailblazers are legitimate. He said UT has an “outstanding” quarterback and four or more wideouts who can run well and have good hands.

“It will definitely be a challenge,” Gilford said. “They are (averaging) more than 40 points in their last three games. … We just gotta go out and produce. We can’t have any letdowns or anything like that. We have to go out there and play BYU football and I think it will take care of itself.”

Utah Tech’s defense, with former BYU linebacker Shane Hunter acting as co-defensive coordinator, has given up 478.2 yards per game and will obviously have its hands full with Hall, Nacua, tight end Isaac Rex and a BYU offensive line that will have a considerable size advantage.

“They are a hard working bunch, I will say that,” BYU running back Lopini Katoa said of UT’s defense. “They are flying around everywhere. You don’t see a lack of effort on their part. So it is definitely a team you gotta respect. They are going to come in here hungry, and we know that.”

The Cougars are hungry to get bowl eligible and not have to worry about beating Stanford next week to pick up their sixth win. 

“We are obviously motivated by being in a bowl game, and us seniors and upperclassmen are motivated by just winning our last game at LaVell and continuing to win,” said senior defensive lineman Lorenzo Fauatea, one of 13 Cougars who will definitely be playing for the final time at LES. “Because that is the name of the game in football.”


Cougars on the air

Utah Tech (4-6)

at BYU (5-5)

Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo

TV: BYUtv

Radio: KSL NewsRadio 102.7 FM/1160 AM