PROVO, Utah - Special teams, defense and the running game helped the BYU football team hang on to a 24-17 win against the UCF Knights at LaVell Edwards Stadium in front of 59,874 fans on Friday.
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Defensive back Joe Sampson intercepted a pass tipped by linebacker Kyle Van Noy at the BYU three-yard line to save a potential game-tying touchdown with 3:10 left in the game. UCF got the ball back with just over one minute remaining but sacks by Van Noy and defensive end Mike Muehlmann sealed the victory for the Cougars.
The back-and-forth finish to the game also featured wide receiver Cody Hoffman taking a kickoff 93 yards to the house for a touchdown to tie the score at 17-17 in the third quarter. The touchdown return was the first by a BYU player since 1998 when Mike Rigell ran one back 96 yards against Hawaii.
"Special teams were critical for us," head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "We also had timely turnovers forced by our defense and that kept the points where we had a chance."
The special teams unit struck again in the fourth quarter when Michael Alisa recovered a muffed punt at the Knights 8-yard line, setting up BYU’s go-ahead score from running back Bryan Kariya on a 6-yard run with 10:29 left in the game.
Kariya had 14 carries for 52 yards and one touchdown and caught two passes for 11 yards. Running back JJ Di Luigi rushed seven times for 38 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown run to go along with a pair of receptions for 16 yards. Altogether, BYU’s running backs had their highest output of the season with 127 yards on the ground.
"I just saw progress overall as a team," Mendenhall said. "I was very happy with the victory. It was hard-fought against a good team and a positive game overall."
UCF got on the board on its first possession. The Knights elected to receive the football first and drove 63 yards and connected on a 34-yard field goal to take the early 3-0 lead.
The Cougars matched UCF on their opening drive with a field goal. Kicker Justin Sorensen connected from 37 yards to tie the score at 3-3.
On BYU’s next possession quarterback Jake Heaps was intercepted, setting up a short field for the Knights at the BYU 17. Three plays later UCF quarterback Jeff Godfrey rushed the ball into the end zone from 10 yards out for the touchdown and a 10-3 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Defense was the story of the second quarter with both teams trading stops, holding each other scoreless for the second quarter. The Knights took their 10-3 advantage into the break.
The Cougars stopped UCF on a third down attempt, forcing a punt from the Knights own 3-yard line. BYU returned the ball to the UCF 38-yard line. With a short field, the Cougars finally got into the end zone on a 16-yard touchdown run from Di Luigi. Sorensen made the extra point to knot the score up 10-10 with 8:13 remaining in the third quarter.
UCF took the lead right back on the ensuing drive. Godfrey connected on a 54-yard pass as part of a seven-play 84-yard drive, capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run from Godfrey. UCF would go up 17-10 after the made extra point.
The lead wouldn’t last long as Hoffman’s 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with 4:37 left in the third quarter got the Cougars right back in the game. Sorensen tied the score at 17-17 with the extra point.
After a muffed punt from UCF in the fourth quarter, BYU recovered the football on the eight-yard line but suffered a 15-yard penalty, setting the Cougars up on the Knights 23-yard line. It didn’t phase the running game as three straight handoffs to Kariya proved to be lethal, the last coming in the form of a 6-yard touchdown run. BYU went up 24-17 with just over 10:29 to play and held on to win.
Up next, the Cougars play Utah State on Friday at 6 p.m. MT at LaVell Edwards Stadium, televised live on ESPN.
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