Senior Day, BYU motivational bowl game in home final against Utah Tech

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PROVO – The 31-28 victory at Boise State provided a rebound in their step, so much so that when BYU quarterback Jaren Hall and wide receiver Puka Nacua were asked to speak with a small number of local media la last week before the Cougars’ game against FCS Utah Tech, the duo wanted nothing more than to hold the field together.

Or maybe it was so BYU’s two top footballers could ride out some 30-degree weather late after midweek practice in Provo.

Either way, there’s a significant boost to the Cougars’ schedule after that shock win over the Broncos. A win that not only grants a road win in the decade-long rivalry for back-to-back meetings at BYU for the first time in program history, but also puts the likelihood of a playoff bowl game back on Table.

Beat the Trailblazers, who are still in the midst of a Division I transition, and the Cougars will be given a bowl destination in Hawaii or New Mexico — maybe Texas or Alabama. Either way, that means 10 extra practices and a few extra weeks of the season, which for a senior class of 13 and another 21 players who will be honored before senior day kicks off on Saturday (1:30 p.m. MST, BYUtv) is just a positive.

That’s all the motivation: seniors, bowling eligibility and just winning at home to erase the taste of a loss to East Carolina the last time the Cougars played in the home stadium named in the honor of the legendary College Football Hall of Fame.

“Our game on Saturday is the most important thing,” Nacua said. “But it’s also all those things. We’re playing in the stadium for maybe our last time for 37 of those guys. To be eligible for bowling and all those things at the end of the season.

“But the most important thing is to win.”

Nacua said he still hasn’t made a decision, although he will go through all of BYU’s senior passing traditions on senior day. Head coach Kalani Sitake said he would give players still eligible the chance to skip the senior day and receive the usual senior cover, while keeping their options open.

Worst case scenario, some players get two covers.

“We still have two games left, but I’m honored to be on this list,” said Nacua, who added that he was planning to make the decision whether to return for his senior season or give up his final year at the club. college eligibility “sometime after the Stanford game” on Nov. 26.

“We’re just trying to focus and make sure we win our last game at LaVell Edwards Stadium,” he said. “It will be an important game on my schedule – circled for the rest of my life – but also to make sure we win at LaVell Edwards Stadium.”

Ditto for his quarterback, although Hall said he “don’t even want to think about it.” The redshirt junior has one more year of eligibility left, but is widely expected to seek a spot in the NFL due to his lengthy college experience, a two-year church mission and because he turns 25 in March.

He’s also No. 15 in program history with 5,625 passing yards and 45 touchdowns, and leaves behind a legacy as the Cougars’ first black starting quarterback and one who has helped turn the program around ever since. his arrival after the disastrous 4-9 campaign of 2017.

“I think we’re a resilient group; kids who want to be great. When we came in, BYU was in a tough spot,” said running back Lopini Katoa, who spent the 2017 season as a member of the scout team. “These guys got to see it inside and out. A lot of the boys in the locker room played a huge role in rebuilding us to where it is. Even though it’s not a perfect season, from where we started where we are now is a huge leap forward.”

It’s a big part of the legacy of the Class of 2023 – whether it’s 13 or 37 players like the one who will tie their arms and step onto the pitch one last time on Saturday night.

“We all love being part of the legacy,” Hall said. “For us to be here in 2018, when coach A-Rod and coach (Jeff) Grimes joined the staff and changed things up offensively, to see the growth of that and to be in the halls to help to shape the program to where it is now, hopefully we left it in a better place than where we found it.

“Seeing all the ups and downs of the last five years, the good and the bad, it’s a resilient team and I’m really lucky to be part of it.”

It’s a legacy that every senior takes seriously, whether he’s been in the program for five years like Hall, six like tailback Katoa and defensive end Lorenzo Fauatea, or joined the group part-time during of his college career as Oregon State transfer Kaleb Hayes, Cal’s Christopher Brooks and Houston Heimuli from Stanford.

“I love these boys,” Hayes said. “When I came here they made it easy for me. We have a close brotherhood in the DB room and I love the experience they bring.

“It’s a privilege to be able to play for a program like this. I’ve only been here two years, but these have been the best two years of my college career and my life.”

Of course, there is also a game on Saturday, and even if it’s against a first FCS opponent, it’s a good game. The Trailblazers (4-6) are riding a three-game winning streak that includes a 47-44 road win over Stephen F. Austin and a pair of emotional wins, a 48-36 win over rival Southern Utah and a 34 -28 against Stephen F. Austin. Tarleton State on a senior day.

In head coach Paul Peterson’s fourth season, Utah Tech boasts an explosive offense under new offensive coordinator Craig Stutzmann, averaging 28.6 points and 425.9 yards per game.

Celebrating Senior Day with a win is the most important thing for the Cougars. But that requires the last part: a victory.

The rest will recover later.

“There are a lot of good things going for us,” Hall said. “I just want to be in the moment.”

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A proud graduate of Syracuse University, Sean Walker has been covering BYU for KSL.com since 2015, while blending prep sports, education and whatever his editors throw at him.

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