By Kenny Cox
DALLAS – With no timeouts left and 11 seconds remaining in the game, Riley Nelson faked spiking the ball to stop the clock and instead threw to an open Cody Hoffman for the game-winning touchdown to give BYU a 24-21 win over Tulsa in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl at Gerald J. Ford Stadium on Friday.
BYU faced a 4th-and-8 from the Tulsa 47-yard line with the clock ticking down near three minutes remaining in the game. After finding on one open downfield, Nelson scrambled 14 yards to convert the first down. BYU got the ball down to the 2-yard line before Nelson found Hoffman for his third touchdown catch of the game and the crafty score with 11 seconds left.
"I was really pleased with the way our team battled, the grit, the determination, especially in the second half," head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "We have a strong reputation of when games are close to find a way to win."
With the win, BYU (10-3) locked up its fifth 10-win season in the last six years and third bowl victory in a row, its first three-game bowl win streak in program history.
Hoffman, named the Armed Forces Bowl Most Outstanding Player for the Cougars finished with eight catches for 122 yards and a bowl-record three touchdowns.
BYU struggled on offense for much of the game with Nelson facing constant pressure and a running game that could never get going. The Cougars finished with 344 total yards and Nelson battled through a tough day, ompleting 17 of 40 passes for 250 yards and two interceptions, but adding three important touchdowns, including the game-winner.
"Nothing came easy for (Nelson) today," Mendenhall said.
Later on, Mendenhall added, "Yet when it came down to driving the team to win the game, including the instructions to down the 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."
Despite the offensive issues, BYU’s defense was stout as usual, surrendering just 272 total yards and only 37 yards on the ground to a Golden Hurricane team that came into the game averaging over 200 rushing yards per game.
In response to BYU’s game plan for stopping the Tulsa rushing attack, linebacker Kyle Van Noy simply said, "Practice."
Van Noy made play after play on defense with 10 tackles to lead the Cougars, including five tackles for loss, two sacks and one quarterback hurry.
Special teams also played a huge role in the game. Punter Riley Stephenson had eight punts for 335 yards, including seven inside the 20-yard line and two punts over 50 yards. BYU’s special teams also recovered a muffed punt setting up one touchdown in the game.
Tulsa took a 14-3 lead in the second quarter with the help of wide receiver Bryan Burnham catching a 50-yard pass from G.J. Kinne to move downfield. Two plays later Kinne picked up his second touchdown pass of the game on a quick strike to tight end Clay Sears from 14 yards out.
With 25 seconds left on the clock in the second quarter, BYU deep snapper Reed Hornung ran down the field on punt coverage and caused Tulsa’s returner to muff the kick. The Cougars’ David Foote recovered it at the Golden Hurricane 17-yard line. On the ensuing play, Nelson scrambled to his left and received a big block from a helmetless Matt Reynolds and found Hoffman for a 17-yard touchdown pass. The score trimmed Tulsa’s lead to 14-10 at halftime.
"Man if your special teams gives you a gift like that you have to capitalize," Nelson said. "Like I said, if you’re not putting drives together, you got to find a way. Myself included."
After back-to-back tackles for loss, including a sack from Van Noy, the Golden Hurricane missed a 46-yard field goal attempt. BYU finally capitalized on its strong defense by putting together a 9-play, 71-yard touchdown drive. Nelson threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Hoffman again to put the Cougars in the lead for the first time at 17-14 with 1:41 remaining in the third quarter.
Tulsa answered with another touchdown drive of its own later on in the fourth quarter. Kinne hurled another pass over the top for a 30-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone to give the Golden Hurricane a 21-17 lead with 10:42 left.
BYU had Tulsa pinned up against the goal line and forced a punt but ran into the kicker to give the Golden Hurricane a new set of downs. The Cougars stopped the drive and punt returner JD Falslev still got BYU in good field position with a 22-yard return to the Tulsa 48-yard line with 4:18 remaining, setting up BYU’s game-winning drive. Falslev finished with three punt returns for 44 yards to go along with a pair of receptions for 31 yards.
The Cougars finished their first season as in independent winning 10 games and defeating teams from the SEC, Pac-12, C-USA and WAC while playing 11 games on the ESPN family of networks.