Katoa carries Cougars over Aggies to become bowl eligible

In his final home game, Sione Takitaki had six tackles, one sack, one QB hurry, and two TFL (Isaac Hale, Daily Herald).

In a perfect world, the BYU Cougars would have beaten the Utah State Aggies in game six of the 2018 season to become bowl eligible. Any fan can tell you, however, BYU football has been anything but perfect recently. Yet, with Thanksgiving nearing, the Cougars can be thankful that the New Mexico State Aggies were also on the schedule.

These Aggies came to Provo for the final home game of the season. Led by running backs Lopini Katoa and Matt Hadley, BYU overwhelmed New Mexico State to move to 6-5 on the season. After failing to qualify for a bowl last season, BYU is back in the bowl picture.

The Cougars can take one more step forward and assure themselves a winning record by beating Utah in the regular season finale. That, however, will require a better start than they had yesterday. For the third game in a row, BYU came out flat and fell behind early.

Both teams punted after failing to pick up a single first down on their first possession of the game. New Mexico State put together a 13-play, 85-yard drive on its second series to take a 7-0 lead. The Aggies drove into field goal range, but missed, on their third series.

In the meantime, the BYU offense continued to punt. In fact, the Cougars moved backwards 11 yards on their second possession. However, freshman Malik Moore intercepted an Aggie throw that was deflected by Rhett Sandlin to give BYU the ball just 15 yards from the end zone with 3:15 left in the first quarter.

BYU was able to tie the game at seven following four straight runs by Hadley.

That turnover and score weren't able to fully wake up the Cougar offense. It took a second interception by the BYU defense to do that. This one was by Isaiah Kaufusi, and ended a 12-play drive by New Mexico State.

Over the next 11:48, BYU would score 24 points to build a commanding halftime lead.

First, the Cougars drove 77 yards following the second interception. The final 40 came on one run by Hadley for his second score of the game.

Second, BYU went 58 yards for a touchdown. Zach Wilson completed passes to tight ends Dallin Holker and Matt Bushman to cover 39 of those yards. Katoa scored from 15 yards out.

It was the first of four touchdown runs for Katoa, and put BYU up 21-7.

The next time BYU had the ball, Riley Burt took center stage. He carried the ball four times for 32 yards, but it was Katoa, again, who got in for the score. This time from 13 yards out.

During all of this, New Mexico State never got a single first down. That allowed BYU to get the ball back one last time in the half with 1:04 to play. A Wilson to Bushman connection for 32 yards got the Cougars close enough for a last second field goal. That gave BYU a 31-7 lead going into the locker room.

BYU punted to open the second half. Despite sacking the Aggie quarterback twice, New Mexico State was able to drive into field goal range, but missed for the second time of the night.

BYU went back to what was working at the end of the first half. Burt did the heavy lifting carrying the ball five times for 25 yards, but Katoa got the payoff with a 13-yard touchdown run.

New Mexico State punted on its next possession. (The Aggies would punt 10 times on the night.) It was a bad kick, but took a fortunate bounce hitting one of the BYU blockers. The Aggies fell on the ball at the BYU 30-yard line and got a fresh set of downs. They advanced the ball just 15 yards before successfully kicking a field goal.

BYU punted on its next possession, and the third quarter ended with the Cougars ahead 38-10.

With it being Senior Night, and comfortably ahead, BYU coaches turned to senior quarterback Tanner Mangum. After a 50-yard run by Katoa that ended with a giant souvenir of LaVell Edwards Stadium turf in his facemask, Mangum completed a 21-yard strike to Holker to move the ball to the two-yard line.

Mangum was treated to chants of, "Tanner, Tanner, Tanner," from the home crowd following the play.

Katoa scored his final touchdown of the night on the next play, making it 45-10.

A couple series later, reserve running back Tyler Allgeier broke loose for a 44-yard run to the one-yard line. Trying to get Mangum one final touchdown pass for his career, BYU called a pass play. The Aggies got pressure, and Mangum's throw was intercepted.

BYU finished the game with 510 yards of total offense (317 rushing). The Cougar D sacked New Mexico State five times and gave up just 48 yards on the ground.

PLAY OF THE GAME: Senior Gavin Fowler recovering a muffed punt with 4:09 to play.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: Lopini Katoa - 19 carries, 155 yards, 4 TD

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