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Landover, Md. • BYU may not have the kind of record that will attract a hoped-for invitation to the Big 12 conference, but first-year coach Kalani Sitake's crew sure knows how to put on an entertaining show, complete with a dramatic finish.
Now if they could only eke out another victory, like they did in the opener.
Facing a quality Big 12 opponent at an NFL stadium outside Washington, D.C., the mistake-plagued Cougars came up short for the third straight week against a Power Five foe, falling 35-32 to West Virginia at FedEx Field on Saturday afternoon in front of 38,207 entertained onlookers.
The Cougars' comeback bid fell short near West Virginia's goal line when Taysom Hill's second-and-2 pass intended for freshman Aleva Hifo was batted away and intercepted with a minute remaining by WVU's Maurice Fleming. BYU has lost three games by a total of seven points since winning its season opener by two points against Arizona.
"I wish we just had a couple more minutes on the clock, and a couple more plays to make," Sitake said.
And fewer turnovers. Fleming's pick was BYU's fourth giveaway three interceptions by Hill and the first lost fumble of star running back Jamaal Williams' four-year career.
"We just gotta find a way to make one more play than they do," Sitake said.
The Cougars seemed to be out of it when West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Daikiel Shorts to give the designated home team a 35-19 lead with 11:27 remaining. Howard was sensational, completing 31 of 40 passes for 332 yards.
But Hill overcame a 54-yard pick-six by West Virginia's Rasul Douglas in the second quarter and engineered two fourth-quarter touchdown drives. Williams scored on a 3-yard plunge with just over nine minutes left, and Hill threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Moroni Laulu-Pututau with 5:55 remaining to trim the deficit to three.
A pair of failed two-point conversion attempts BYU is 0-4 on those tries this season would come back to haunt the Cougars.
"We are sitting in a bad spot right now that obviously we don't want to be in, but we can fight back from this," Sitake said.
Jeremy Tyler intercepted Hill with just over four minutes remaining on a ball that skipped off Mitchell Juergens' hands, and West Virginia quickly drove to the BYU 4 and was on the cusp of putting it away. Then Francis Bernard jumped on a fumble, and the Cougars had new life.
"I was like, my ball, now let's go win," said Bernard.
Said Sitake: "That last fumble, that was our crowd [estimated to be around 10,000] making it hard for them to communicate."
After taking over on their own 6 with 2:36, the Cougars got 29- and 23-yard catches from Nick Kurtz and some nifty runs by Hill to get to the WVU 28. After BYU took its last timeout, Hill went for the big play and got burnt.
Williams, who rushed for 169 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries, called the Cougars' final offensive play "just an unfortunate event."
Added Williams: "We had no doubt in our minds that we could go down there and score, and win it. … I feel like we just beat ourselves. We gotta stop beating ourselves with the tipped balls and the errors."
West Virginia finished with 481 total yards offense and repeatedly beat BYU defenders with the long ball, or flares to its running backs that were seemingly open all game.
"They shouldn't have scored four touchdowns on us, I know that," Bernard said.
Fred Warner led the defensive charge with a career-high 14 tackles, and Butch Pau'u made his first career interception, which set up a 22-yard field goal by Rhett Almond, filling in for injured freshman kicker Jake Oldroyd.
Twice in the first half the Cougars had to settle for field goals after reaching the West Virginia 3 and the West Virginia 10, the second one coming when replay booth officials put a second back on the clock before halftime.
Overall, though, Sitake said the offense "showed a lot of improvement from the first three weeks."
Hill finished 23 of 35 for 241 yards and two touchdowns, with three interceptions.
"I just know we haven't played our best game yet," Sitake said. "I am still waiting for that to happen."
R WVU's Maurice Fleming intercepts a deflected pass near the goal line to preserve the Mountaineers' win.
• Trailing 35-19 in the fourth quarter, BYU rallies but comes up short on its final drive.
• The Cougars are 1-3 for the first time since they went independent in 2011.