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Flying burritos? Cougars overcome a ‘hostile’ Georgia Southern crowd to win by 17

Cougars coach Kalani Sitake good-naturedly said some Georgia Southern fans were throwing food at BYU players during the 34-17 win at Paulson Stadium

BYU running back Lopini Katoa scores a touchdown.
BYU running back Lopini Katoa (4) scores a touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Georgia Southern, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Statesboro, Ga.
Paul Abell, Associated Press

STATESBORO, Georgia — About half of the 20,862 people in 25,000-seat Paulson Stadium were cheering for the BYU Cougars instead of the homesteading Georgia Southern Eagles on Saturday, creating a unique, almost bowl-like environment for the game BYU won by a count of 34-17.

BYU coach Kalani Sitake said things got so crazy that some GS fans were throwing food at the Cougars, whose bench was directly in front of the Georgia Southern students, just as it was last month when BYU played at Utah State.

Announced attendance was 20,862, as 5,000 or so fans bought tickets but didn’t show up.

“There was a lot of stuff going on,” Sitake said. “We were getting hit by burritos on the sideline. It was pretty hostile, but I am just really proud of the way the guys bounced back and made some adjustments.”

Georgia Southern took a 17-14 lead in the second quarter, but No. 14 BYU scored 20 unanswered points to win going away and improve to 9-2 heading into next week’s game vs. USC at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Asked later if he really got hit by a burrito, Sitake said he didn’t, then joked about it.

“No, I mean, I wish, I am kinda hungry. I would have eaten it,” he said.

“I don’t know why you would waste burritos. I think that’s a good thing to keep in the stands. A lot of our guys were getting hit by different types of foods, so maybe that’s just their giving way here at Georgia Southern.”

BYU defensive back Jakob Robinson, who made two interceptions in the game, said he heard that Sitake got hit by something, but didn’t see anything.

“I was just sitting on the bench, minding my business,” Robinson said.

Star receiver Puka Nacua, who had five catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns, called the atmosphere “such a blast” and said he was probably responsible for egging the home team’s crowd on a bit with a few of his celebrations after TDs.

“Luckily, I didn’t (get hit by any food),” he said. “I think that might have been a first half thing (when he was injured briefly), because I think I would have been pretty feisty out here in the second half.”

Nacua, who picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for shoving a player after that player had shoved his brother, Samson, said the game was unusually chippy, for whatever reason.

It was the first-ever meeting between the schools separated by more than 2,000 miles.

“I saw blood (brother) and when he came after No. 45, and I didn’t even think about it, and before I knew it Kalani (Sitake) was in my face,” Puka said.

The home crowd had a lot to cheer about when Puka Nacua sustained an awkward hit and was taken to the locker room before the first half ended.

He eventually returned and made several big plays in the second half, including a 29-yard touchdown reception, beating the defensive back on a 50-50 ball.

“We came out here to the South and we knew they were going to have a home advantage and have Senior Night,” Puka said.

“But Cougar Nation showed up as always and they made it fun. It definitely was a nice chippy one. They kept us on our toes the whole game, and I was happy to win.”

Said Sitake: “I loved seeing our fans here. That was so much fun. I will love seeing our fans soon on the other side of the country next week, too (when BYU plays at USC).”

Allgeier shines again

BYU running back Tyler Allgeier carried the ball 25 times for 136 yards and a touchdown for the fifth 100-yard game of the season and 11th of his career.

“Mr. Allgeier does it again, and our O-line paved the way,” Nacua said. “We trust in them, and they delivered in that fourth quarter.”

Allgeier now has 2,596 career rushing yards, ranking No. 7 on BYU’s all-time list.

He passed Luke Staley.

He also passed Harvey Unga and Jamaal Williams to take the No. 6 spot for single-season rushing yards, with 1,298 yards with two games yet to play.

The solo touchdown moved him into a tie with Curtis Brown at No. 6 with 31 career rushing touchdowns.

Injuries continue to mount up

BYU played without starting linebacker Payton Wilgar, who had season-ending shoulder surgery last week.

“It is frustrating,” Sitake said, noting that Wilgar has been playing in pain most of the season.

“In order to get him back in the right amount of time, the decision had to be made whether to do it now or later. It was best for him to get him ready for next year and do the surgery now.”

Also missing from the starting lineup was right tackle Campbell Barrington, who had been filling in for opening-game starter Harris LaChance.

Freshman Brayden Keim started in Barrington’s place.

Sitake said Barrington was injured in practice and could be back next week vs. USC.

“Overall, we will just have to go with what we got,” Sitake said. “It has worked out so far, so hopefully we can get this next one.”