|Fred Warner pumps up the team (Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo)|
Led by running back Squally Canada getting his first 200 yard rushing game and quarterback Joe Critchlow getting his first career start, the BYU Cougars got their third win of the season in a 31-21 decision against the UNLV Running Rebels (4-6).
BYU (3-8) was without quarterbacks Tanner Mangum (achilles) and Beau Hoge (toe), so true freshman Joe Critchlow became the Cougars' third different player to start at quarterback this season. The last time BYU started this many different quarterbacks in the same season was 2012. James Lark started in the regular season finale at New Mexico State after Riley Nelson and Taysom Hill made starts earlier in the season. Lark came out a winner, just like Critchlow.
Much like Lark had the help of Cody Hoffman having the best game of his career, Critchlow had the help of Canada. After being a complementary piece to the offense in the first half (five carries, 30 yards), Canada exploded in the second half with 20 carries for 183 yards.
The game began with UNLV receiving the ball. The Running Rebels were without their starting quarterback, too, but in their case, they were replacing a freshman with a senior. UNLV didn't skip a beat. The Running Rebels moved the ball 53 yards in eight plays to reach the BYU 22-yard line. On 3rd and 10, Corbin Kaufusi got in and sacked the quarterback for a nine-yard loss. That forced UNLV into kicking a 48-yard field goal, which was missed.
In an unexpected move, BYU dropped back to pass on its first three plays. Critchlow completed his first two attempts for 10 yards to get the Cougars a first down. His next attempt was incomplete. That was followed by Canada running for four yards, which was neutralized by a four-yard sack on the next play. That had BYU punting the ball back to UNLV.
UNLV had similar results to BYU on its next series. The Running Rebels picked up one first down through the air, but punted three plays later after failing to pick up another.
BYU lost three yards on a first down run. A 10-yard pass to Aleva Hifo set up a managable 3rd and 3, but Critchlow's pass intended for Hifo was incomplete.
That's when UNLV looked to get a leg up in this contest. Starting back at their own seven-yard line, the Running Rebels ran over seven minutes off the clock as they drove 79 yards down the field in 15 plays. A 37-yard pass on 2nd and 7 moved the ball out near midfield, but after that it was several short runs sprinkled with five-yard passes that kept the ball moving closer and closer to the BYU goal line.
On the final play of the first quarter, UNLV chose to go for the first down on 4th and 2; the Running Rebels got three yards. Three plays later on 3rd and 4, BYU had the quarterback stopped for a one-yard loss, but he fumbled before going to the ground. The ball flew right into a teammate's hands five yards downfield for a first down. It was starting to feel like this game would turn out like so many others this season. BYU would lose to a team it could beat because the bounces didn't go their way.
|Zayne Anderson intercepts the ball (BYU Photo)|
Canada started the drive with his second four-yard run of the night. On second down, Austin Kafentzis broke loose for 20 yards. That was a breakthrough moment for the Cougar offense. BYU had two more plays on the drive of 19 yards or longer, and finished with a one-yard touchdown run by Brayden El-Bakri.
With 9:06 to play in the first half, BYU took a 7-0 lead.
UNLV stormed right back to tie the game. The Running Rebels moved from their own 21-yard line to the BYU 32 in just two plays. A 16-yard pass from the BYU 17-yard line gave UNLV 1st and Goal at the one. Inspired by their last red zone stand, the Cougar defense stopped UNLV on two straight runs. The officials even ruled the UNLV ball carrier short of the goal line on third down, but replay review overturned that spot, and gave the Running Rebels the touchdown.
With the game tied up, the Cougar offense was not phased. Using a mix of runs and throws, BYU moved to the UNLV 45-yard line with 1:13 to play in the half. Facing 4th and 1, and knowing they had nothing to lose with eight losses already this season, the Cougars didn't punt. Critchlow snuck the ball for two yards to keep the drive going.
Critchlow found tight end Matt Bushman for 26 yards on the very next play. Canada carried the ball six yards to the UNLV 11, but appeared to lose the ball going down to the ground. Officials ruled UNLV recovered the fumble with 32 seconds to play in the half. An officials review of the play ended up in another overturning of the ruling on the field. BYU had new life.
|Aleva Hifo scores a TD just before halftime (BYU Photo)|
UNLV was dominating the time of possession (18:40 to 11:20), and had more yards of total offense (222 to 171). However, Critchlow had acquitted himself well in the first half. His stats were a modest 10 of 14 for 119 yards, but he had several timely throws, like the touchdown to Hifo, that were making the difference on the scoreboard.
Canada would benefit the most in the second half from Critchlow's first half play. That benefit was on display starting with the very first play. Canada busted loose for 54-yards. Kafentzis carried the ball twice for six yards each play while Canada caught his breath. He then returned to finish off the drive with a two-yard touchdown run.
BYU had so much momentum at this point. It allowed the Cougar defense to force its first three and out of the game, and get the ball right back for the offense. The Cougar offense proceeded to march right down the field picking up 10 yards and 11 yards on the first two plays of the drive. A pass interference penalty on UNLV two plays later moved the ball to the Running Rebels 20-yard line. An incomplete pass on 3rd and 6 caused the drive to stall.
The Cougars, momentarily, took a 24-7 lead with a field goal with 8:12 to play in the third quarter, but it was nullified by a holding penalty. The second attempt from 10-yards back missed.
The score remained 21-7, and UNLV completed a 35-yard pass on first down. That had to get Cougar fans a little nervous. It had shades of game five at Utah State. BYU had built a 21-7 lead in that game as well, but an unfortunate bounce of the ball helped Utah State begin its rally by closing the gap to 21-14. Now, the Running Rebels were poised to do the same. UNLV covered the final 38 yards to the end zone in seven plays.
|Squally Canada carries the ball (BYU Photo)|
That extended the lead back to two touchdowns, 28-14, with 1:40 to play in the third quarter.
Sensing they needed to keep pace if they were going to win the game, the Running Rebels completed passes of 13 and 16 yards. That moved the ball one yard shy of midfield. When the third quarter ended, UNLV faced 4th and 3 at the BYU 45-yard line.
BYU took over on downs as UNLV's pass was incomplete. For the only time of the second half, BYU was unable to pick up a first down. Jonny Linehan's punt pinned UNLV deep in its own territory.
Just like the one time they were pinned inside their 10-yard line in the first half, the Running Rebels got out of it with a big pass play. On 3rd and 6, UNLV completed a 50-yard pass, but it appeared the play would not stand as yellow penalty flags were thrown for a fairly obvious hold on BYU defensive end Sione Takitaki. Officials decided not to call the foul and allowed the play to stand.
The BYU defense was undaunted, and forced UNLV into a 4th and 11 three plays later. This time, however, UNLV made a great play for a 27-yard catch to pick up the first down. A 13-yard pass on the next play got the touchdown.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against UNLV following the touchdown helped BYU get good field position following the kickoff. Michael Shelton returned the ball 31 yards to the BYU 45-yard line.
|Rhett Almond kicks 28-yard field goal (BYU Photo)|
There was still 5:39 to play, and BYU couldn't breath easy quite yet. UNLV had six plays of 25 yards or more on the night, including two on the previous drive. The Running Rebels had the ability to get two more scores in regulation.
Chris Wilcox broke up a pass on first down. UNLV got just four yards on second down. Knowing UNLV would go for the first down on 4th down, BYU decided to move UNLV back on a holding penalty on third down even though the pass was incomplete. UNLV threw another incomplete pass on 3rd and 16, and then decided to punt.
That's when Canada virtually closed out the win. He ran for 11 yards, then seven, and then 21. That pushed him over the 200 yard mark for the game, and forced UNLV to start using its timeouts. BYU continued running the ball every down. The Cougars were unable to score, and turned the ball over on downs at the UNLV 12-yard line with 1:51 to play.
There would be no drama, however, as Fred Warner intercepted the Running Rebels' first pass, and returned it 26 yards to the UNLV 3. BYU ran out the clock to make the 31-21 win official.
Interestingly, BYU dominated the second half without converting a single third down (0-5). BYU turned around that massive time of possession deficit from the first half to finish the game with 30:04 time of possession.
Critchlow finished the game completing 14 of 22 passes for 160 yards and 1 touchdown. He made no mistakes (turnovers) in his first start.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Canada's 54-yard run on the first play of the second half. Sent the message that BYU was going to impose its will on UNLV in the second half and bring home the win.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Squally Canada--25 carries, 213 yards (8.5 yards per carry), 1 TD
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