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BYU Holds on to Beat Arizona in Season Opener

BYU kicked off its 2021 season with a 24-16 win over Arizona on Saturday night

When BYU and Arizona kicked off in Las Vegas on Saturday night, they broke a Nevada record for the largest crowd at a football game with 54,541 in attendance.

BYU had control game through the third quarter until a safety sparked an Arizona comeback attempt. Here is a recap of BYU's 24-16 win over Arizona on Saturday night. 

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First quarter

The first quarter was riddled with injuries. Defensive end Uriah Leiataua left the game in the opening minutes with what appeared to be a shoulder stinger - he returned to the game after being evaluated by the medical team. 

Minutes later, BYU defensive back Keenan Ellis suffered a scary injury while coming up to defend a pass in the flats. Ellis went limp after hitting the receiver. After many minutes on the field, Ellis was taken off the field on a stretcher. Following the game, BYU said, "Ellis had movement in his extremities and was responsive upon leaving the field. He is at UMC trauma center."

On the next drive, wide receiver Gunner Romney suffered a lower-leg injury while blocking during a Tyler Allgeier rushing attempt. 

Injuries were the main storyline in the opening frame as drives were stalling for both offenses. BYU quarterback Jaren Hall, who was seeing his first playing time since 2019, got off to a slow start. Hall was just 2/7 for 11 yards in the first quarter.

BYU's defense, however, came ready to play. The Cougars allowed only 39 total yards in the first quarter and forced two punts.

Second quarter

In the second quarter, Jaren Hall got himself into a rhythm with a 22-yard strike to Neil Pau'u. Plays later on 4th & 5, Hall converted on a slant to Chris Jackson for a first down. Hall was visibly more comfortable as the drive progressed down the field.

Later in the drive, Tyler Allgeier scored from 15 yards out to give BYU a 7-0 lead. 

After Arizona missed a field goal on the following drive, BYU took over from their own 20.

On 3rd & 7 from their own 33, Hall connected with Neil Pau'u for a 67-yard touchdown. The protection was perfect, and Hall looked off the safety before delivering a perfect ball to Pau'u for the touchdown. 14-0 in favor of the Cougars.

Jaren Hall was 8/9 for 137 yards and one touchdown on those two drives.

Arizona responded with a 65-yard drive of their own that ended in a field goal. BYU took a 14-3 lead going into halftime.

Third quarter

Arizona received the ball to open the second half. After two quick first downs, Arizona was at BYU's 45-yard line with a fresh set of downs to work with. On 1st & 10, BYU linebacker Josh Wilson broke up a Gunner Cruz pass to force 2nd &10. On second down, BYU blew up an Arizona flea-flicker with a well-timed blitz. On third & long, BYU brought pressure again and it paid off. Defensive end Uriah Leiataua tracked down Cruz for a sack and a 12-yard loss to force a punt.

BYU took over from their own 20-yard line. BYU would go 80 yards on 9 plays to score a touchdown - Jaren Hall found Neil Pau'u from six yards out to give BYU a 21-3 lead. The highlight of the drive was a 39-yard run by Jaren Hall. Hall scrambled and beat a linebacker to the edge for the big gain.

On the next drive, Arizona strung together a few first downs to get into BYU territory once again. On 3rd & 3, BYU dialed up a blitz and again it paid off. This time it was linebacker Payton Wilgar that came up with the sack.

Arizona brought out their punter on 4th & 14. At this point in the game, BYU was in complete control. Until, however, Arizona booted a perfect punt that pinned the Cougars inside their own one-yard line.

Two plays later, Arizona tackled Lopini Katoa for a loss and a safety. BYU led Arizona 21-5 with 3:12 remaining in the third quarter.

On the ensuing safety kickoff, Arizona return specialist Tayvian Cunningham hurdled BYU kicker Justen Smith during a 36-yard kickoff return that put Arizona in BYU territory once again.

Arizona capitalized on the advantageous field position with a touchdown drive of their own - the Wildcats traveled 46 yards in only 3 plays. Arizona converted the two-point conversion to make it a one-score game 21-13 with 2:00 remaining in the third quarter.

Arizona's defense forced a three-and-out on the following drive. Suddenly Arizona had the ball in a one-score game.

Fourth quarter

Arizona marched down the field once again. The Wildcats had a 1st & 10 from BYU's 12-yard line. The next three defensive plays changed the game.

On first down, BYU flushed Cruz out of the pocket and forced him to throw it away. On 2nd&10, BYU safety Chaz Ah You made a brilliant open-field tackle in the flat for force third-and-long.

On 3rd&7, BYU brought the heat once again. Tyler Batty sacked Cruz for a 17-yard loss. Arizona missed the 44-yard field goal. BYU maintained its 21-13 lead.

With 11:42 remaining in the game, BYU took over from their own 26-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Tyler Allgeier bounced a run to the outside for a 21-yard gain. BYU moved into scoring territory before backup kicker Justen Smith nailed a 40-yard field goal. That was the first field goal attempt of Smith's career. BYU stretched its lead to 24-13.

Arizona did not go down without a fight. The Wildcats started moving the chains once again. Their efforts fell short when Hayden Livingston intercepted an ill-advised pass in the end zone.

An Arizona field goal kept Arizona's hopes alive with under one minute remaining. BYU led 24-16 with 00:49 remaining. Wide receiver Samson Nacua recovered the onside kick for the Cougars to seal the victory.