BYU struggles to break free from Liberty

Micah Simon overcame pass interference on this play to make a 47-yard catch (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News).

The BYU Cougars had several opportunities to put out the Liberty Flames in the second half, but turnovers and questionable play calling kept the game within reach until the final seconds. It wasn't until the Liberty wide receiver dropped what would have been a first down on 4th and 21 with about 30 seconds left that BYU was able to take a knee and secure a 31-24 victory.

Liberty received the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards in 10 plays. A 19-yard touchdown pass gave the Flames an early 7-0 lead. BYU answered with a 75-yard drive of its own. A 47-yard pass from quarterback Baylor Romney to Micah Simon, who caught the ball despite heavy pass interference from the defender, got the Cougars in scoring position. Two plays later, Simon caught a two-yard touchdown pass that tied the game at seven.

Liberty barely missed a field goal on its next possession, and then the game started to settle into what most fans were expecting and/or hoping. BYU kicked a field goal and then scored another touchdown after forcing a three and out. The 44-yard touchdown pass from Simon to Matt Bushman with 8:36 to play in the second quarter gave the Cougars a 17-7 lead.

BYU had scored on each of its first three possessions, but would not pick up another first down the rest of the half. At least the Cougar D did its job and kept Liberty from scoring again before the break.

It appeared BYU was going to set the tone and start putting the game out of reach on the opening drive of the second half. BYU overcame a holding penalty with a 21-yard pass from Romney to Bushman. Sione Finau picked up 20 total yards on back-to-back runs. A third consecutive run by Finau was good for 14 more yards, but the freshman fumbled at the end of the run and Liberty recovered.

The Flames were fanned to life by the turnover and they moved right down the field and kicked a field goal to make it a 17-10 game. However, BYU answered with a drive that demonstrated it was the better team. Facing 4th and 2 at the Liberty 41-yard line, the Cougars did was superior teams do. They ran a play to pick up the first down. After catching the quick out and getting the yardage needed for the first down, Aleva Hifo turned up field, stayed in bounds, and raced down the sideline for a 41-yard touchdown.

The score was now 24-10 with 4:11 to play in the third quarter. It didn't stay that way for long. Although inferior, Liberty was not intimidated. The Flames burned the Cougar secondary with a 41-yard touchdown pass of their own. Trailing by just a touchdown, 24-17, they took a chance with an onside kick with 2:11 to play in the third quarter. Isaiah Kaufusi was not fooled and promptly recovered for BYU.

Taking over at the Liberty 47-yard line, BYU had another chance to seize control of the game. After a four-yard run on first down, BYU got fancy and called a reverse, flea-flicker. Liberty had clearly watched the game film of the Coguars' last few games, and was not fooled. No one was open, but with two defenders closing in on him, Romney heaved up a deep pass that was intercepted. 

After the Cougar D forced a punt, BYU settled down and resumed the role of knowingly being the superior team. The Cougars put together a methodical nine-play, 68-yard drive that ended in a 17-yard touchdown pass to Moroni Laulu-Pututau to make it a two touchdown game, again, 31-17 with 12:01 to play in the game.

BYU forced another quick punt. One more methodical touchdown drive would put the game away. Back-to-back penalties on BYU turned 3rd and 1 into 3rd and 16. (The second penalty was very questionable as replay appeared to show Simon caught the pass just behind the line of scrimmage, which would have made the downfield blocking by BYU players legal. Replay review did not reverse the call.) Romney was sacked, and BYU got off a short punt that didn't cross midfield.

The great field position allowed Liberty to quickly score and pull within seven, 31-24, with 6:35 to play.

BYU would chew up over five minutes of clock, but gave the ball back on downs with 1:27 left in the game. Despite being in field goal range, BYU ran a fake field goal that was poorly executed and gave Liberty plenty of time for a potential game tying or winning touchdown.

Liberty completed a 16-yard pass to midfield on first down. On 4th and 21, the Liberty quarterback delivered a pass right on target to an open receiver beyond the first down marker, but the pass was dropped. That gave BYU the ball back with 28 seconds left. Both sides were out of timeouts. BYU took a knee to end the game.

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