Home Game Experience

BYU's season home opener against Tulsa marked a first in many categories. It was the Cougars' first win of the season, the first time the offense got it going this year, and the first home game for several true freshmen, who were in instrumental in defeating the C-USA champions. The BYU offense and defense went well above and beyond their team goals.

Coming out of the LaVell Edwards Stadium tunnel with their teammates, six true freshmen got the thrill of their lives going into their first home game in Provo.

"Ecstatic!" said freshman running back Harvey Unga about his feelings as he ran onto the field. "It was just crazy walking out of the tunnel with all the boys. Being in front of all those fans, I don't know, you can't really describe the feeling being out there on the field. High school was good going to the state championship and all, but there is no comparison to coming out into LaVell Edwards Stadium in front of 60,000 screaming fans. You can't beat that."

The true freshman running back was soon caught up in the energy of the crowd as the nerves and jitters of playing in front of your home town fans began to set in.

"Shoot, I was just trying to figure out how I was going to do the Haka I was so nervous," laughed Unga. "I got all nervous and didn't know what to do and I was thinking, ‘Okay, I'm going to do the Haka first then I'll remember what I'm supposed to do in my position.' It was a lot of fun. I pulled off the Haka okay I guess. I stumbled a bit through the words but I had all the right actions and it looked good. It was a blast."

Also playing in his first home game was true freshman Matangi Tonga. Like Unga, Tonga felt the energy of the crowd leading up to the opening kickoff.

"From the tunnel to the Haka there was just so much excitement and we hadn't even started the game yet," said Tonga. "The Haka gets you pumped up and ready for the game, and that's the reason why we do it. To get everyone ready to get excited for the game and to get us pumped up and ready to play.

"It was crazy and it's always good to play at home. You have all the support of the home crowd cheering for you. Also, the thunder and lightening cracking overhead just made it all that much more exciting. When we came out of the tunnel for the second and third time to see the crowd still there cheering just showed how dedicated fans are. It was awesome!"

After the Haka, Unga and Tonga saw their first regular season experience at home. BYU has 42 points in the fourth quarter, so Unga got the call and made the most of his time. The Provo, Utah product had 4 carries for 9 yards and a touchdown.. So what was going through the young running back's mind when his number was called?

"Don't fumble," laughed Unga. "That's what was going through my mind. Just hold the ball tight and inside, don't fumble, kick your feet and go and do what you gotta do. That was the first run. The first run I was just running the ball and then the next thing I know I got hit by like three guys and thought, ‘Oh boy, that's not a good way to start.' The next one I thought, ‘Hey, I'm going in and I don't even care what anyone thinks, I don't even care who is in front of me I'm getting in there.' Before I did make it in, Fui [Vakapuna] and Manase [Tonga] were looking at me and saying, ‘You're going to get in. We don't care what you think, you're going to get in.' I did get in and all I was thinking about was there is the end zone so drag the safety [Bobby Blackshire] in. The boys opened up the hole up front and helped me make it happen, it was fun."

Although Matangi Tonga did not score his first defensive touchdown, he did get his first collegiate interception during his first home game.

"It was crazy because all I was thinking was pass rush," said Tonga with a big smile. "It was second or third down so I was just thinking pass rush when he threw it. We're taught to jump for the ball and I felt the ball just barely pass over my fingers, and we're also taught to run towards the ball no matter if it's an incomplete pass or what. At that time, I turned to run towards the ball, and Criddle did a good job of deflecting the ball into the air. I guess I was just at the right place at the right time.

Joining Unga and Matangi Tonga but catching balls in front of his home crowd was wide receiver McKay Jacobson.

"It was very exciting," said Jacobson. "The crowd was really energetic and this was something I've always wanted to do, play in Lavell Edwards Stadium. It's just a great atmosphere to play but most importantly we came away with a win. I've been to a few home games watching, but it's a totally different feeling being out there on the field, it's louder and even more exciting. It's your home turf and obviously you want to go out there and protect it, and I'm glad we were able to go out there and put up some points to come away with the win. Last year Tulsa had a great year as conference champions and they have a great team this year. We feel good about playing more up to our potential and I believe we'll keep getting better."

Jacobson caught two long passes down field against a tough Tulsa secondary. Jacobson leads all receivers with an average of 16.5 yards per catch.

"Running out there, and with every play, you expect the ball to be there," Jacobson said. "As a receiver that's how you have to play and be ready for it at all times, and sometimes as a receiver you always think you're open, but you know it was fun getting that first pass from John [Beck] and then the other one down field, it was great.

Jacobson caught a 24-yard pass against the nations 5th rated secondary that would later help set up tailback Fui Vakapuna for a touchdown run. Jacobson has now faced two of the top five secondaries in the country in his first two collegiate games.

"They played their secondary a little bit different than Arizona," Jacobson said. "I would say they're pretty comparable but it's really difficult to compare teams especially when you don't play as an offense to the level of what you're capable of. Although we might have scored more points on Tulsa, I would say it's because of more of what we did instead of what the defenders were able to do. These were two great teams we played with some very good talent in their secondary, and it's been fun."

After a slow start against the Wildcats of Arizona, the BYU offensive line came out and dominated a Tulsa defense. Sete Aualai helped lead his offensive line by opening holes for a 227 yard rushing performance in his first ever home game experience.

"It was a great experience playing in front of my home crowd," said BYU center Aulai. "My parents came out too, and playing in front of everyone at Lavell Edwards Stadium is like no other. When I was in the tunnel I was just thinking, ‘Man, I'm going to kill those guys.' Against Arizona, our offensive line didn't feel like we played like we know we can. Before this last game against Tulsa we got off the bus and dropped off our stuff in our locker rooms, we came out here onto the field and I was like, ‘Man, I feel it. I know our line is going to do it.' The end result was a 200 and something rushing yard game. We came out and wanted to make a statement that we are one of the toughest lines in the country.

"It was fun and when you start to have fun everything just falls into place. When our running backs started making plays like they did it was like, ‘Oh okay, cool.' When Curtis [Brown] busted that swing pass and broke all kind of tackles to score, and then Fui followed it up with a run that was only meant to get the first down but turned it into like a 50 yard run breaking all kinds of tackles. We were only expecting Fui to get the first down but that's how Fui is though. That's just how Fui is; he's a rugby player. I just love blocking for those guys because they just make plays, and I know they believe in us as an offensive line."

"Thier defense is pretty tough," said true freshman Mike Hague who also played in his first home game. "It's not like high school on that one play where I got hit in the backfield when I tried to reverse field. In high school, I could have pulled away right there but some D-lineman smacked my legs out. It's a lot faster at this level and that was kind of my first experience, but now I just thought, ‘Okay, now it's my turn to go back and work even more on my speed.' That way I can be able to get away from those guys next time."

Joining Fui Vakapuna in striking pay dirt was fullback Manase Tonga. Although it was not his first home game experience, Tonga did score his first collegian touchdown while at home.

"The first thing going through my mind was it was just good to be back in Provo," said Tonga. "You know it was a tough loss to Arizona, and there's nothing more comforting than to come home and feel the love from the fans to get that juice flowing through your veins. When you feel that, you're ready to roll. The running backs as a whole were playing well and, like the coaches said when we're more and more active within the offense, when you're playing like that, it just opens everything up even more. John [Beck] was able to make some nice throws because the safeties were coming up to try and stop the run game. When our office is firing on all cylinders it's hard to stop even when it isn't.

"Seeing that we were that close to the goal line, and you know I don't get a chance to touch the ball as often as Fui Vakapuna and Curtis [Brown], when I do touch the ball I have to make the most of it. I was just zoned in and determined to score. I couldn't have asked for a better situation. It was against a tough Tulsa team, defending Conference USA champions and they also went to a bowl game and beat a tough Fresno State team. They had a lot of returning starters and we had a tough defense playing in our season home opener. The lightning was cracking during the game you can't ask for anything better than that."

"That was a great feeling when I got my interception, but when my brother scored his first touchdown it was a great day for us as a family and a team," said younger brother Matangi Tonga. "It was just an exciting day."

For slot receiver Hague, the energy started flowing in the locker room.

"The word to describe it is excitement," Hague said. "When I was sitting in the locker room my feet were jumping around, and I just couldn't wait to get out there because there are Friday night lights and then there are Saturday night lights at Lavell Edwards Stadium. I was talking to Bryan Kehl before the game and he was telling me some stories about what it's like to be in the tunnel before a game at Lavell Edwards Stadium. There's no other stadium like it, and it's just exhilarating on the field on those special days. You know on the field you just want to stop and take a look around and see all the fans up in the stands."


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