Provo • Liberty came into Provo on a mission – to get its seventh win of the season and become bowl eligible. But that’ll have to wait, because BYU is working on the same goal (although the Cougars need only six wins).
BYU put the Flames' plans on hold, beating Liberty 31-24 Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
However, it wasn't easy.
Liberty had its best chance of tying the game – or even winning – late in the fourth quarter when BYU opted for a trick play, faking a field goal attempt and instead going for a rush on a fourth-and-2 situation. The Flames’ defense swarmed kicker Jake Oldroyd, who ended up with a loss of 4 yards.
It was the Cougars’ second failed trick play of the game and, just like that, Liberty regained possession on its own 34-yard line with 1:27 left in the game.
With the game in the hands of the BYU defense, tight end Matt Bushman said he watched from the sideline with a lot of belief and confidence in his team because the Cougars had found themselves in similar situations earlier in the season.
Liberty's final drive ended five plays later on an incomplete pass, broken up by linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi.
“It's definitely an intense moment for everyone,” Bushman said. “We were all just yelling as loud as we could, trying to be the 12th man. And it worked in our favor. It felt good.”
Coming off consecutive rivalry wins against Boise State and Utah State – and after posting its best offensive performance since 2015 last week – it seemed BYU had overcome its early-season issues. However, the Cougars continued to stumble against Liberty.
BYU (5-4) gave up two turnovers – a fumble and an interception. Luckily for the Cougars, the turnovers were converted into only three points. But it did halt the Cougars’ momentum and prevent them from putting the game away sooner.
“It was ugly, but we'll take the win as best we can,” defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga said. “There was a lot of mistakes that we made, especially as a defense, that we wish we can take back, but that's just part of the game. We've got to look past them, learn from them, we'll go back to the drawing board, watch film and learn from our mistakes.”
Last week, against the Aggies, BYU's defense forced five turnovers. This time around, the Cougars were unable to force any turnovers.
But the struggles were almost erased by moments of brilliance.
The Cougars extended their lead to 17-7 on a double throw from quarterback Baylor Romney to Micah Simon to Matt Bushman for a 44-yard touchdown reception. Simon had already had his hands on BYU’s first touchdown, having caught a 2-yard pass from Romney on the Cougars’ first drive of the game.
Then, Liberty’s ensuing drive was stopped by BYU’s safeties. On third-and-9, Dayan Ghanwoloku broke up a pass. The Flames decided to go for it instead of punting, only to have the next pass broken up by Austin Lee to force a turnover on downs.
The Cougars will fight for bowl eligibility next week, when they host Idaho State in the final home game of the season. BYU will then close out the regular season with road trips to UMass and San Diego State.
Lee said the possibility of playing in a bowl game is exciting because it gives the team something to play for.
“It’s really big – it’s big for the program, it’s big for us,” Lee said. “It’s an extra game that we get to play. Like we said, we can’t take football for granted because some day it’s going to come to an end.”