The last game for the foreseeable future between BYU and Boise State turned out to be a thriller.

Puka Nacua’s 6-yard touchdown with 1:46 to play proved to be the game-winner in a contest that went back and forth on the blue turf in Boise on Saturday night.

Here are three takeaways from a win that snapped the Cougars’ four-game losing streak.

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Highlights, key plays and photos from BYU’s 31-28 win over Boise State

Fourth down finally goes in BYU’s favor 

BYU’s struggles on fourth down, particularly on offense, were well-publicized going into this game.

The Cougars had been 5 of 19 on fourth down for the year, and they failed to convert their eighth fourth-down attempt in a row on a 4th and 1 in the first quarter.

Then BYU desperately needed a fourth-down conversion facing 4th and goal from the Boise State 6 with under two minutes to play, trailing 27-24 and with only two timeouts remaining after using one in the third quarter.

It wasn’t without some drama. First, BYU appeared to have a false start on the fourth down, only for Boise State to call a timeout.

Once the teams got back on the field, BYU quarterback Jaren Hall took one step back, then threw to the corner of the end zone to arguably the Cougars’ best player, Nacua.

Nacua, under tight coverage, bobbled the ball before completing the catch, getting a toe in the end zone and falling to the ground.

Initially it was called a touchdown, but with how close the catch was to coming out of bounds, it went to review. 

The officials upheld the call, and BYU’s fourth-down drought was over.

Just a few moments later, the Cougars got another big play on a fourth down, this time from the defense.

With Boise State facing a 4th and 8 from its 27, Jakob Robinson came up with the big play, knocking away a pass intended for Latrell Caples with one minute remaining.

That allowed BYU to run out the clock and pick up a win that gets it back to .500 on the season. 

BYU overcomes mistakes to earn a win

The Cougars had plenty of chances to build a lead in the first half, as the BYU offense moved the ball on every drive and the Cougar defense held Boise State to 89 first-half yards.

At halftime, though, the game was tied 7-7.

BYU dealt with two turnovers (Hall threw two interceptions deep in Broncos territory, one on a tipped pass), the Cougars had a turnover on downs and the most inexplicable mistake came in the final seconds of the half.

After Hall’s second interception, BYU defenders Keenan Pili and Tyler Batty teamed up on a sack and fumble recovery on Boise State’s Taylen Green to give the Cougar offense one last chance for redemption with 14 seconds left, starting a drive from Boise State’s 10.

The Cougars couldn’t convert — an incomplete pass and a completion to the 1 were followed by a Lopini Katoa run that came up short of crossing the goal line on the half’s final play.

At that point, with a BYU team that had endured its share of forgettable moments in a winless October, the amount of missed opportunities appeared perhaps too much to overcome.

It wasn’t, though.

Instead, BYU found ways to answer each Boise State score in the second half. 

The Broncos took the first drive of the second half for a touchdown to claim a 14-7 lead.

The Cougars responded with a field goal, then a 24-yard Nacua touchdown to give them the 17-14 lead with under a minute left in the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, the two teams traded a pair of touchdowns each, with Nacua’s second score the game-winner.

BYU turned its first four second-half possessions into 24 points, as it put up 532 yards of total offense.

Boise State may have put up 28 points, but the Broncos had just 328 yards and went 4 of 10 on third down. The Cougar defense, much maligned through the better part of the year, then came up with the final key play in stopping Boise State’s last drive.

The Broncos were also held to 104 yards rushing and did not get a lot of their run game through long portions of the game.

For a team that’s wilted in key situations over the past several weeks, it was impressive to see BYU step up amidst adversity.

It paid off in a defining win for this year’s team. 

The Cougars had several heroic efforts 

Several players came up big for the Cougars against Boise State. 

Nacua finished with a career-high 14 receptions for 157 yards and two touchdowns, including 41 yards on the go-ahead drive.

Hall accounted for four touchdowns — three passing, one rushing — and a career-high 459 yards of total offense, finishing with 377 passing yards and 82 rushing yards. 

While he had the two interceptions, Hall overcame those errors to lead the BYU offense, which never had a three-and-out and reached Boise State territory on every drive.

Running back Hinckley Ropati was a little-used backup before the night, but he came up with two especially important screen plays.

The first came midway through the fourth quarter when Ropati scored on a 48-yard pass — his first career touchdown — to give BYU a 24-21 lead.

BYU running back Hinckley Ropati, left, runs with the ball in front of Boise State defensive tackle Scott Matlock (99) on a 48-yard touchdown reception.
BYU running back Hinckley Ropati, left, runs with the ball in front of Boise State defensive tackle Scott Matlock (99) on a 48-yard touchdown reception in the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in Boise, Idaho. | Steve Conner, Associated Press

Ropati added a second 29-yard screen play catch on BYU’s final drive, helping set up Nacua’s game-winner by getting the Cougars inside the Boise State 10.

Defensively, the Cougars got solid games from guys such as Batty, Pili, Kaleb Hayes and Robinson. 

Pili had BYU’s first sack in over a month, Batty added the fumble recovery and five tackles, and the Cougars secondary had three big pass deflections, with ones from Hayes and Robinson especially key.

The effort was the most complete game the Cougars have experienced this season.