Nacua Bowl III: Pass-catching brothers for Utah and Washington will meet in Seattle.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes wide receiver Samson Nacua (45) celebrates the win. Utah Utes host the Oregon Ducks, NCAA football at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday Nov. 10, 2018.

Utah receiver Samson Nacua would create quite a scene Saturday in Seattle if he caught a touchdown pass, sprinted to the “W” in the middle of Husky Stadium and screamed at his brother Puka on the Washington sideline.

That’s how Nacua celebrated the touchdown pass he threw as a substitute quarterback for Timpview High School four years ago, when his brother was an Orem freshman. The demonstration drew a mild rebuke from the referee, by Nacua’a account, in his team’s 35-20 victory.

Known as one of No. 9 Utah’s most emotional players, Nacua will be slightly more subdued on the field in Seattle. In practice this week, though, “I’m going to go crazy … making sure everybody’s hyped and everybody’s ready to play.”

Nacua Bowl III, with one more family competition to come in 2020 at Rice-Eccles Stadium, will involve two receivers who might have played together in college. Puka chose Washington over Utah and other schools in February after originally committing to USC.


When • Saturday, 2 p.m. MDT


Kai and Isaiah Nacua played against each other in a 2012 state championship game in Nevada, just before Penina Nacua moved her family to Provo as single mother of seven children. Their father, Lionel, had died of complications of diabetes at age 45.

During the Utes’ spring practice in March, Samson Nacua (whose middle name is Lionel) said he understood Puka’s choice: “I just told him, ‘Bro, whatever makes you happy, whatever looks like home for you, I’ll support your back, no matter what.’ He came out with his decision, and I’m happy for him.”

Nacua then smiled and added, “I just told him to be ready when we come out and whup their a-- next year.”

He basically retold that story Monday, except for omitting the aggressive postscript. Nacua did say he recently asked his brother if he was prepared to face one of the country’s best defenses.

Nacua borrowed a teammate’s phone to make that call, having shut off his own phone in August in an effort to focus on this season. Nacua is having a strange season statistically, as a third-year junior. Playing behind Britain Covey as a slot receiver, he had one catch for 2 yards in Utah’s first four games. When Covey sat out vs. Washington State, making plans to redshirt in 2018, Nacua made five receptions — the team high in any game — for 90 yards and a touchdown. He added three catches for 46 yards, including a spectacular TD grab, at Oregon State.

But in the last two games, he had only one reception for 9 yards. That's life for Utah's receivers, playing in an offense that uses tight ends extensively in the passing game and spreads the ball around.

“We love Samson,” Ute coach Kyle Whittingham said, praising his downfield blocking ability.

Puka Nacua has posted two three-catch games as a freshman, against Arizona and Oregon, with a total of seven catches. Washington fans have wanted to see him get more involved, and that's happening. He played the most snaps of any receiver in the Huskies' most recent game, a 35-31 loss to now-No. 7 Oregon.

“He's a talent,” Whittingham said. “All you've got to do is watch his high school highlights. He was a high school phenom.”

The numbers suggest that's an understatement. Puka Nacua set state career records that should last a long time, with 260 receptions for 5,226 yards and 58 touchdowns, ending with Orem's Class 4A championship at Rice-Eccles Stadium in November.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Orem's Puka Nacua celebrates as he leaps over his teammates after clutching the state record for touchdowns with 26 against Dixie in the 4A high school championship game at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018.

He reopened his recruitment after USC fired offensive coordinator Tee Martin, and picked Washington four days after the signing date in February — with Oregon having been the speculative favorite. The other finalists were Utah, UCLA and BYU.

“We thought we were in good shape, relatively speaking, as far as him being an in-state guy and having interest in us,” Whittingham said this week. “We never thought he was ours, or anything like that; we were just in the hunt for him.”

So the extended Nacua family will have split loyalties Saturday, when up to 60 relatives of the receivers will occupy Husky Stadium. Samson Nacua describes the scramble for tickets as an “ordeal,” with relatives coming from Utah, Nevada and California — plus some in Washington whom he didn’t know about.

He's convinced his father will be watching as well. “I know he's smiling,” Nacua said. “I know he couldn't be more proud of us. He's probably just screaming with his hands up, like, 'Let's go! Let's go!' ”

That’s exactly what Samson Lionel Nacua will be doing, as the Utes take the field to face his brother’s team.