While most students were not doing homework and relaxing at home for the holiday break, the BYU football team was finishing its season by preparing for and playing in a bowl game in Dallas.
BYU junior quarterback Riley Nelson faked a spike then threw a touchdown pass to sophomore Cody Hoffman with just 11 seconds left in regulation to seal a 24-21 victory over the Tulsa Golden Hurricane in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. The Cougars have now won each of their last three bowl games.
“[We] stopped the clock about 12 seconds left on the first down, which is enough time to get two [plays],” Nelson said of the final play. “As our guys hustled to the ball, their guys kind of stood up. We were yelling clock, everyone was making the sign. I looked at the clock. I thought, I can be quick with this, get it off, give us enough time for two plays. I yelled to our outside guys the call and gave them the signal and we ran it.”
BYU was the only team to score in the third quarter. But after a Tulsa touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Cougars were down, 17-21. The two teams traded punts before BYU finally capped a 48-yard drive with the fake spike play.
“I was really pleased with the way our team battled, the grit, the determination, especially the second half,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “I think they played hungry. We have a strong reputation of when the games are close to find a way to win.”
Tulsa lead the game 14-3 just before the end of the first half. But Tulsa’s kick returner fumbled the ball with 25 seconds left in the quarter and BYU recovered on Tulsa’s 17 yard line. The Cougars capitalized on the turnover with a touchdown pass from Nelson to Hoffman.
“Me and Riley have a lot of chemistry,” Hoffman said. “I think it started with us living together last year. We know what we’re going to do. He just makes plays on his own. Once he gets out of the pocket, anybody’s fair game.”
Both teams came into the game averaging over 30 points per game but with an extra four weeks to prepare, the defenses for both BYU and Tulsa proved to be more dominant. The two squads combined for four forced turnovers and did not allow either team to rush for more than 100 yards.
Nelson threw two interceptions and only completed 17-of-40 passes, but was able to put the ball in the end zone three times on passes to Hoffman. He also converted a first down on a 14-yard scramble to keep the game-winning drive alive.
“I think that Riley battled. Nothing came easy for him today. Tulsa was able to get good pressure on him. They hit him a lot. They played our run game effectively. There were a number of errant throws. Yet when it came down to driving the team to win the game, including the instructions to down a ball, he fake downs it and throws a touchdown, he just wasn’t going to be denied helping our team win. That’s who he is. I was really impressed,” Mendenhall said.