Foxborough, Mass. • After playing on the same field that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady plays on and speaking from the same podium where coach Bill Belichick mumbles answers, BYU freshman quarterback Zach Wilson said the Cougars’ 35-16 victory over UMass Saturday is an experience he will never forget.
“It was amazing. Beautiful stadium, beautiful atmosphere. I loved just being able to be on that field,” Wilson said. “Knowing Tom Brady for the New England Patriots has played on this field, along with many other amazing teams, is a cool experience. This is something I will never forget. And we are so lucky as players to be able to come and do something like this.”
The announced crowd at Gillette Stadium was just 14,082, better than the 12,571 who watched BYU defeat New Mexico State in 2012. But nobody dressed in blue and white was complaining.
When the game started, the crowd was evenly split between UMass and BYU fans — not counting the 3,500 local high school band students who performed at halftime — but by the time it was over, Cougar faithful had taken over and chants of B-Y-U echoed around tens of thousands of empty seats.
“I love it. That was awesome,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “They made a lot of noise. Everywhere we go, it is nice to have fans, even when you are two time zones away on the East Coast.”
The Cougars improved to 7-4 in NFL stadiums over the past 10 seasons; next year’s game will be played at UMass’ on-campus stadium in Amherst, some 70 miles away.
“We got the win, so I am going to count it as an exciting experience for the whole team, the coaches and myself,” said linebacker Sione Takitaki, who posted a career-best 14 tackles, including two tackles for loss. “It was a good stadium. I wish it was more packed, but a lot of BYU fans came out, so that was really great.”
Isaiah Kaufusi also made 14 tackles, but it was a play that might have been that the linebacker will remember the rest of his life.
He stepped in front of UMass QB Ross Comis’ pass in the the third quarter, and had clear sailing to the end zone. But he dropped it.
“The ball hit my hands. No real good excuse,” Kaufusi said. “I should have had a pick-six with that one.”
Fellow linebacker Rhett Sandlin will go away with fond memories after playing what he called “probably the best game that I have had here at BYU.”
Sandlin picked up his first two career sacks and added another tackle for loss. His sacks sparked a BYU defense that became more dominant as the game went on.
“I feel like everyone was a little bit tired this morning, just waking up early,” Sandlin said. “It took a little bit for it to kick in. I don’t know if that is why we started slow. For me personally, I was a little bit tired. We ended up waking up and playing our game.”
Former BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy visited the team hotel Friday night and also showed up Saturday before the game before he and his Patriot teammates left for Tennessee.
“That was cool,” said running back Matt Hadley, who carried the ball 11 times for 69 yards and a touchdown. “I was here at BYU in Kyle’s junior year, 2012, my freshman year. That seems like forever ago. It was cool to see him again in his atmosphere.”