Late-game heroics had become a staple for the BYU football team, but the Cougars ran out of tricks against the Hawaii Warriors. Led by special teams play and an aerial assault, the Warriors knocked off previously unbeaten BYU 72-45. The loss in front of a sell-out crowd ended BYU's dreams of an undefeated season.
Hawaii jumped out to an early lead behind two kick returns for touchdowns by Chad Evans, all in the first quarter. Evans took the opening kick all the way to the BYU 32-yard line, returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown and for an encore, returned a kickoff the length of the field for a touchdown.
"The key to our loss was early special teams play on our kickoff coverage," BYU head coach Gary Crowton said. "The other key was the turnovers."
BYU lost six fumbles and threw one interception, and it seemed the turnovers would come just when things were looking good for the Cougars.
"I am disappointed because of the turnovers," Crowton said. "There is no excuse for that."
Almost all hopes were dashed for the Cougars by the end of the third quarter, when Hawaii receiver Ashley Lelie caught an 80-yard touchdown pass to take a commanding 58-31 lead. Both teams scored two touchdowns in the final quarter and the Cougars couldn't put a dent in the Warriors' huge lead.
Senior quarterback Brandon Doman lost for the first time as the starting quarterback at BYU. Doman's record coming into the game was 14-0, but Doman took an early exit from the Hawaii game after injuring his ribs. Charlie Peterson played well in his place, passing for 284 yards and two touchdowns. Third-string quarterback Todd Mortensen also saw some playing time and threw a touchdown pass to Reno Mahe in the fourth quarter.
When BYU scores 45 points, amasses more than 600 yards and holds the ball for more than 37 minutes, the Cougars usually end up with a win. But the Warriors had an answer for everything the Cougars had to offer. The 72 points are the most points the Cougars have ever given up in a single game.
"We knew going in that they were rolling," Crowton said. "They came out and they executed on special teams early and we didn't."
Despite the loss, Mahe provided another amazing performance, lining up in the backfield and as a receiver. Fighting a hip pointer and an injured knee, Mahe had 14 receptions for 184 yards and two touchdowns. It marked the second straight week Mahe caught for more than 180 yards. Mahe fought through the injuries to rush for 69 yards on eight carries.
"Stats really don't matter though except for the win-loss one," Mahe said. "Hats off to them though, they were the better team today."
The hole the Cougars dug for themselves early in the game proved too much to overcome. BYU trailed by 21 at halftime after failing to score in the second quarter. The Cougars refused to give up, but the 35-point second half still wasn't nearly enough.
"I am very proud of these young men," Crowton said. "Obviously, I'm not happy with losing, but I don't want to dwell on it. I want to move on."
The Cougars will conclude their season in the Liberty Bowl against nationally ranked Louisville. The game will take place New Year's Eve in Memphis.
THE STREAK CONTINUES
With Matt Payne's 44-yard field goal in the first quarter, the BYU Cougars continued the streak of consecutive games without a shutout. The streak now is at 337 games, with the last shutout coming against Arizona State way back in 1975.
Despite trailing 21-10 after one quarter, the Cougars controlled the ball for an amazing 12:44 in the first stanza. It easily marks the most the Cougars held on to the ball for any quarter during the season. For the game, BYU controlled the ball for 37:39, the most time the Cougars held the ball for the season.
Aaron Francisco's over-the-shoulder grab of a Nick Rolovich pass continued BYU's streak of having at least one interception in each game this season.
SPECIAL TEAMS ISSUES
Hawaii receiver Chad Owens had a field day on BYU's kick coverage teams. He returned a kickoff for a touchdown and a punt for a touchdown, all in the first quarter. The punt return for the touchdown marked the first time BYU has allowed a punt return for a touchdown since a 1987 loss to New Mexico. The last time an opponent took a kickoff all the way back was in 1998 when Daniel Jones from Utah took it all the way in 1998. Owens also opened the game off with a 64-yard kickoff return to set up Hawaii's first scoring drive.
MOST POINTS EVER...FOR THE OPPONENT
After rewriting scoring record books at BYU most of the season, the Cougars came up on the wrong end of today's scoring record. Hawaii's 72 points is the most points by an opponent ever. The previous high was 68 by UCLA in 1993.
MOST PLAYS EVER
Having to play catch-up most of the game, BYU's offense was on the field for the majority of the game. BYU set a record with 102 plays from scrimmage. The previous high was 101 against Utah State in 1976.
Both teams had a hard time holding on to the football in today's game. BYU lost six fumbles and Hawaii lost four fumbles. Each team threw an interception as well.
Brandon Doman, Charlie Peterson and Todd Mortensen all threw touchdown passes for the Cougars. Doman sat most of the second half after being taken out of the game because he hurt his ribs.