PROVO, Utah – A 24-point second quarter, led by freshman Lopini Katoa’s two touchdowns, gave the No. 25 BYU football team a 30-3 win over McNeese State at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
It was the first meeting between BYU and McNeese, as well as the Cougars’ lone Football Championship Subdivision matchup of the year. The upset-minded Cowboys came into Provo ranked No. 10 among FCS teams.
"Obviously there are some things we can fix to get better, but I think I will say that after every game," head coach Kalani Sitake said. "I thought it was good to celebrate the win and get to the next game. We will celebrate this one and get ready for Washington."
Katoa led BYU in scoring, notching two touchdowns en route to 24 points in the second quarter. He also led the running game with 64 yards on 10 attempts. Senior Squally Canada was right behind Katoa with 57 yards on 10 attempts. Matt Hadley got his first action at running back of the season, running for a team-high 20 yarder in the fourth quarter.
BYU’s passing game featured nine players getting receptions, with six players going for double-digit receiving yards. Aleva Hifo led the group with 38 yards, while Talon Shumway had the lone score among the receivers with a 7-yard touchdown.
On the defensive side, the Cougars forced four turnovers, a new season high, with two fumbles and two interceptions. Senior Michael Shelton led the squad with six tackles, all of them solo, and forced the first fumble of his career. Corbin Kaufusi was next with five tackles, including one sack, as well as a blocked field goal early in the decisive second quarter.
McNeese marched down the field following the opening kickoff, making it all the way to the BYU 38-yard line before a tackle for loss by Chris Wilcox on third down forced a punt. The Cougars were unable to capitalize on their opening drive after a fumble that they managed to recover set them behind the chains.
BYU’s defense appeared to stop the Cowboys on third down once again on the following drive, but a facemask penalty gave the offense an automatic first down and great field position in the red zone. The Cougars were able to hold the Cowboys to a field goal, going down 3-0 midway through the first quarter.
BYU fumbled it again on the following drive, but this time the Cowboys recovered it for the first lost fumble of the the season. The Cougar defense once again forced a field goal attempt, which the Cowboys missed wide.
Katoa gave BYU its first big play of the game with a 15-yard run on the next drive, a new career high for the freshman. Unfortunately the Cougars were unable to extend the drive, bringing in Danny Jones to punt back to the Cowboys. McNeese was able to bring the ball up to its own 42-yard line before the end of the first quarter.
- BYU’s lost fumble late in the first quarter was the first of the season for the Cougars, and Squally Canada’s first lost fumble since his first BYU carry in the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl
- Freshman Danny Jones’ first BYU punt went for 38 yards
- Chris Wilcox had two tackles for loss
- The Cougars kept the Cowboys from converting a third-down attempt on three tries
McNeese quarterback James Tabary threw a 39-yard pass to Cyron Sutton early in the second quarter to bring the Cowboys up to the BYU 26-yard line. Corbin Kaufusi blocked a field goal attempt and it was recovered by Troy Warner and returned for a 22-yard gain. BYU then quickly moved the ball up the field, and Katoa punched in a 4-yard touchdown run to put the Cougars up 7-3 with 8:42 left in the first half.
Tanner Jacobson intercepted a McNeese pass early on the following drive, putting BYU’s offense back on the 31-yard line. Canada then broke away for a 16-yard run to bring the Cougars inside the 20. A 7-yard pass gave wide receiver Talon Shumway his first career touchdown, and put BYU up double digits, 14-3, with 6:37 left in the first half.
Corbin Kaufusi was then able to pursue and sack the McNeese quarterback on third down, followed by 21-yard punt return by Shelton. Canada topped his previous game-high run with an 18-yard breakaway, followed by a 14-yard run by Katoa into the end zone for his second touchdown of the game.
A fumble on the Cowboys’ first play of the following drive was recovered by the Sawyer Powell, putting BYU back on the 25-yard line. A 30-yard field goal from Skyler Southam gave BYU a 24-3 lead heading into halftime. The Cougars forced two turnovers and converted them into 10 points in the second quarter alone, scoring 24 unanswered points in the period.
- Corbin Kaufusi blocked his fourth career kick
- Katoa’s 4-yard touchdown was the first of his career. He got his second TD from 14 yards out seven minutes later
- Tanner Jacobson reeled in his first BYU interception
- The 7-yard touchdown for Talon Shumway was his first trip to the end zone. It was also the first time a BYU wide receiver scored a touchdown this season
- Kaufusi’s second-quarter sack was his third this season and increased his career total to 11.5
- The Cougar defense finished the first half without allowing a third-down conversion on five attempts
The Cougars opened the second half with their longest drive of the night so far, taking six minutes to march 70 yards down the field and kick a field goal, extending their lead to 24 points at 27-3.
Later in the third quarter, linebacker Rhett Sandlin intercepted a McNeese pass on third down, giving the Cougars their seventh-consecutive third-down stop. This was BYU’s first game of the season with multiple interceptions and first overall since the UNLV game last season.
Southam then hit a 47-yard field goal, the longest of his career, to get BYU to 30 points, surpassing its previous season-high of 28 points at Arizona in the season opener. It was also the Cougars’ third score off of a turnover in the game.
- Tanner Mangum’s 16-yard pass to Matt Bushman marked 500 career completions for the senior quarterback
- Senior linebacker Rhett Sandlin’s interception was the first of his career
- Skyler Southam’s 47-yard field goal was the longest for the Cougars since Mitch Payne’s 48-yarder against UNLV in 2010
- Three more failed third-down conversions by McNeese St. made the Cowboys 0-for-8 through three quarters
Freshman quarterback Zach Wilson entered the game early in the fourth quarter for his first BYU appearance. Wilson ran for an 8-yard gain on his first play, but was called back due to a holding call. He went on to complete his first BYU pass to fellow freshman Gunner Romney before giving the ball back to McNeese on a fourth-down incompletion.
BYU’s Austin Kafentzis forced a fumble later in the fourth quarter that was recovered by Alden Tofa, putting the offense back on the 29-yard line. Senior running back Matt Hadley came in and ran for 25 quick yards before the Cougars let time expire on their double-digit win.
- Freshman quarterback Zach Wilson’s first passing attempt was completed to Gunner Romney for 12 yards
- The fumble forced by Austin Kafentzis and recovered by Alden Tofa marked the first time BYU has forced four turnovers since playing San Jose State on Oct. 28, 2017
- The Cougar defense stopped the Cowboys on two more third-down attempts to finish the night with zero conversions allowed on 10 attempts
- Akile Davis grabbed his second career reception as a Cougar, and first since 2015
The Cougars next game comes against No. 10 Washington on Sep. 29 at 5:30 p.m. PDT in Seattle. The matchup will be broadcast on Fox and can be followed live on BYU Radio Sirius XM 143/89.1 FM.