BYU in review: Cougars shared field — and prayer — with fellow independent, faith-based opponent Liberty

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars running back Sione Finau (35) runs the ball as Liberty Flames safety Isaac Steele (13) defends, in football action between Brigham Young Cougars and Liberty Flames at Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019.

Provo • As the final seconds wound down on the clock, before the final whistle was blown, BYU and Liberty started shaking hands. The Cougars had regained possession with 28 seconds left, securing their 31-24 win over the visiting Flames, Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

But as the teams finished up the postgame tradition, BYU coach Kalani Sitake noticed Liberty was getting ready to take a knee on the field. Sitake felt like it would be good for the Cougars to share that moment, so Liberty coach Hugh Freeze invited the home team to join them.

“It was nice to share the field and then have a word of prayer in the middle of the field with them,” Sitake said. “I thought that was really special, having two teams that are based on Christian values and everything — I thought it was really cool.”

Saturday was the first time the two independent, faith-based schools met.

Liberty completed its two-year reclassification process over the summer and is playing in its first fully bowl-eligible, NCAA Division I FBS season. The Flames moved over to the independent route last season.

BYU safety Austin Lee said the shared moment after the game was pretty cool.

“Even throughout the game, I felt like they had great sportsmanship,” Lee said. “It threw me off, it surprised me. You know, you usually don't do that and so I thought it was very cool. And it shows a lot about their character of their team and their standards. They had great sportsmanship throughout the game and after the game, too, as well, just being able to do that.”

Playing a team like Liberty reaffirmed Lee's belief that the Cougars are on the right path.

Although BYU is playing as an independent and doesn’t have to compete for a conference title, Lee said there’s always something to play for.

The Cougars play for another win. Or the chance to become bowl eligible.

“Football is fun, and playing a team like Liberty — a faith-based team — it shows that there is more to football,” Lee said. “Just the type of guys that they were and how they were able to hold themselves to high standards and still compete and have fun, it shows that there’s just more to life than football.”

Three takeaways

  • Although the staff kept coy throughout the week, Baylor Romney ended up getting the start at quarterback — his second career start — against Liberty. Romney, a third-string walk-on, threw a career- and team-high three touchdowns on 23 of 33 passing for 262 yards and one interception. He also totaled 36 yards on seven rushing attempts. “He’s poised and he’s ready, and the preparation he put in this week is the same we’ve seen from him — he’s always been ready to go,” Sitake said.

  • Of the Cougars’ 471 total offense yards, 306 came through the air. It marked the 11th consecutive game that BYU has thrown for more than 200 yards — the longest stretch since the Cougars had 12 games spanning the 2011-12 seasons. BYU’s 471 yards is also the second-best offensive effort this season, after breaking out with 639 total offense yards against the Aggies.

  • After forcing five turnovers at Utah State last week, the Cougars failed to get a turnover against Liberty. Instead, BYU lost the turnover battle, giving up an interception and fumble. It was the first time since the season opener against Utah that the Cougars failed to acquire a turnover. Usually, losing the turnover battle leads to a loss, but BYU was able to hold on for the win.

Player of the game

Micah Simon, senior, wide receiver.

Simon racked up 93 all-purpose yards — 91 receiving yards on seven receptions and one touchdown — but he also buffed up some other stats, surprisingly, throwing the ball. A week after being part of his first double throw play, Simon threw for 44 yards to Matt Bushman — for a touchdown. It is the first time a BYU player had a receiving and passing touchdown in a game since 1992 when Byron Rex did it against Utah in a 31-22 win.

For Simon, the play brought back memories from when he played quarterback at Bishop Dunne High School in Dallas.

“I guess I’ve had two completions this year with a little bit of pressure,” Simon said. “It’s fun and I love the aggressiveness from our coaches. Every week they’ve put in some different wrinkles for us to go out and execute and it worked out tonight, and I’m glad [Bushman] scored.

Play of the game

Faced with fourth-and-2 on Liberty’s 41-yard line, BYU called a timeout. The team needed to regroup and decide what it wanted to do. The result was an unexpected 41-yard touchdown reception by Aleva Hifo to put the Cougars up 24-10 in the third quarter.

Hifo avoided a tackle right after catching the short pass and then running up along the left side for the score.

“Aleva, with his speed, was able to score on that play, which was pretty cool to do on a fourth-and-2,” Romney said. “I think it was definitely the momentum we needed for the game to end. Fourth-and-2 — that can really crush some spirits with the defense. … I really think that was the turning point of the game.”

Up next

BYU will host Idaho State on Saturday at 1 p.m. in the Cougars’ final home game of the season. The Bengals will make their first trip to Provo in six years. BYU has previously beaten Idaho State in all five of their previous meetings, which date back to 1932.

The Bengals are coming into LaVell Edwards Stadium on a four-game losing streak, while the Cougars are riding a three-game winning streak. With a win, BYU will secure bowl eligibility.