PROVO — Facing a New Mexico State team that entered Saturday’s game as one of the worst teams in the country in rushing defense, BYU unleashed its running game on the hapless Aggies.
Lopini Katoa ran 18 times for 155 yards and four touchdowns — the most rushing TDs by a BYU freshman — and senior Matt Hadley gained 55 yards on seven carries and scored two touchdowns to lead the Cougars to a 45-10 victory over New Mexico State.
"(Katoa) has been hobbled with injuries," said coach Kalani Sitake. "It's nice to have him back at full strength. I thought the running back group did a good job. Our offense is starting to click a little bit. We can still be more consistent."
"It was a lot of fun to see the offense clicking like that," Katoa said. "It's a big tribute to our O-line for the holes they opened up. It's fun to run behind them."
As a team, BYU ran for 317 yards, including Riley Burt’s 61 yards, and amassed a season-high 510 yards of total offense.
That’s how the Cougars earned their sixth victory of the season to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2016.
"We got six wins and we feel good about it," Sitake said.
It all happened on a chilly Saturday night in front of a crowd of 47,505 at LaVell Edwards Stadium — the second-lowest attendance for a game since the stadium expanded in 1982.
One of the recurring themes for BYU football this season has been agonizingly slow starts. Going into Saturday’s game against New Mexico State, the Cougars had scored a total of 31 points in the first quarter.
And despite the fact it was Senior Night at LaVell Edwards Stadium; despite the fact the Cougars needed just one more win to clinch bowl eligibility; and despite the fact there’s a showdown with archrival Utah looming next week, once again, BYU sputtered in the opening period.
Then the Cougars scored 38 consecutive points.
Quarterback Zach Wilson completed 12 of 26 passes for 172 yards. Senior quarterback Tanner Mangum entered the game in place of Wilson with 14:14 left in the fourth quarter and promptly led the Cougars on a scoring drive — and another Katoa TD.
Mangum completed 1 of 3 passes for 21 yards and an interception in his final home game.
A week ago at Gillette Stadium, BYU (6-5) stumbled it way through the opening minutes of the game, spotting UMass 10 points before scoring 35 unanswered.
The Cougars had a similar performance Saturday.
On its first three possessions, BYU gained only 11 yards as Wilson completed 1 of his first 8 passing attempts for eight yards.
"It was a rough start for him," Sitake said of Wilson. "But I have a lot of confidence in him."
On its second possession, meanwhile, New Mexico State (3-8) drove 85 yards and scored first on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Josh Adkins to Drew Dan as the Aggies went up 7-0.
It took the Cougar defense forcing a couple of turnovers that turned the tide for BYU.
An Adkins pass ricocheted off linebacker Rhett Sandlin and fell into the hands of cornerback Malik Moore at the Aggie 15-yard line.
Four plays later, the Cougars got on the scoreboard with 2:20 left in the first quarter on a one-yard TD plunge by Hadley.
In the second quarter, New Mexico State was driving when Isaiah Kaufusi came up with a leaping interception to give BYU the ball back to the offense.
The Cougars capitalized again on its ensuing drive, highlighted by a 40-yard touchdown run by Hadley to make it 14-7.
On its next possession, BYU scored again, this time on a 15-yard TD run by Katoa.25 comments on this story
The Cougars added to its lead with a 13-yard touchdown scamper by Katoa. The half ended with Skyler Southam booting a 23-yard field goal.
At intermission, BYU led 31-7.
At that point, the Cougars had 269 yards of total offense. BYU's 227 total yards in the second quarter are the most in any quarter since 235 in the third period against Fresno State in 2015.
In the third quarter, the Cougars extended their lead to 38-7 on a 14-yard Katoa touchdown run. New Mexico State ended BYU’s 38-point run with a 33-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 38-10.
BYU visits Utah next Saturday in the regular-season finale.