BYU football: Kariya fills Unga's void in big game

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 6 2015 1:12 a.m. MDT

Injured running back Harvey Unga (45) didn't play Saturday, but that didn't stop him from enjoying BYU's 14-13 stunner over Oklahoma. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Injured running back Harvey Unga (45) didn't play Saturday, but that didn't stop him from enjoying BYU's 14-13 stunner over Oklahoma. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

ARLINGTON, Texas — Five minutes before game time Saturday night, backup fullback Bryan Kariya was informed that starting fullback Harvey Unga would not play against Oklahoma because of lingering soreness in his left hamstring.

And once Kariya got the call Saturday night at Dallas Cowboys Stadium, the sophomore from Davis High School filled in quite nicely. In BYU's 14-13 upset, he finished the game leading the Cougars with 118 all-purpose yards. He carried the ball 17 times as the main workhorse out of the backfield for 52 yards — with a long run of 15 yards — and caught four passes for another 76 yards.

"The guy is a warrior, man," BYU quarterback Max Hall said of Unga's fill-in. "He just had a break-through night for us."

With the Cougars wasting good ball movement early on, Kariya ended that jinx by breaking lose for a 49-yard catch and run in the second quarter that led to BYU's first score, which tied the game 7-7. After catching the ball inside the 50, Kariya broke a few tackles, made a few cuts and briefly saw pay dirt in front of him before being dragged down on the 5-yard line.

"I didn't realize the guy was right behind me," Kariya said. "After I made that move I saw the end zone and tried to get going as fast as I could ... it would have been nice to score, but it worked out."

It worked out because two plays later Hall hit Andrew George in the end zone for BYU's first points.

Even though Kariya didn't have another comparable play after that, he still had several key gains in several critical situations. It was clear the Cougar coaching staff was not hesitant to call Kariya's number.

"If it were up to me, he'd be the player of the game," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said.

Kariya was quite humble about his career game following the upset win.

"Everybody has to fill their roles on the team," Kariya said. "When you're called on you have to get in there and do your thing ... hopefully each of us are trained to make those plays when we're called on."

Mendenhall said a sign of greatness is when a player performs at the highest level when that level is needed most. That's how he described Kariya's contribution on Saturday.

"No one knew he could play to that level on this stage, except for maybe us," Mendenhall said. "He played fantastic."

On the sidelines, there cheering Kariya on and being his biggest supporter was Unga.

"Harvey played the role that he needed to tonight. He supported those out on the field tonight even though he wasn't taking reps and taking handoffs and in on the pass plays," Kariya said.

Does Kariya's big game mean a bigger role down the road?

"Hopefully I can just fulfill whatever role they need me to fill ... it doesn't really matter to me as long as we're succeeding as a team," he said.

Mendenhall said performances like Kariya's show how football is a team game, with many players contributing valuable portions to the outcome.

"I'm sure at some other time this season that some other unsung player will step up," Mendenhall said.

Kariya couldn't agree more.

"It's definitely a team game. We did what we had to tonight and the defense just played incredible," he said.

e-mail: jimr@desnews.com

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