By Troy Phillips
DALLAS, Texas — This was Matt Reynolds’ fifth bowl game and 52nd start at Brigham Young. No wonder the senior left tackle is the Cougars’ top NFL prospect.
Clearly, he showed everyone how it’s done.
Reynolds landed the block of the bowl season to give BYU (10-3) a timely morale boost, and the Cougars rallied on Riley Nelson’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Cody Hoffman with 11 seconds to play for a 24-21 victory over Tulsa (8-5) in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl at Ford Stadium.
Nelson and Hoffman highlighted a desperate last drive for the independent Cougars after they fell behind in the fourth quarter for the second time in the game. Nelson’s 8-yard scamper on third and 6 with 49 seconds remaining set up the game-winner. He converted on fourth and 9 earlier on the drive with a 14-yard run.
Nelson’s finished BYU’s winning drive with some clutch trickery, faking a spike to fool Tulsa into thinking he was stopping the clock and then firing to Hoffman, whose man was out of position. The two connected on three TD passes.
“I had Cody’s eyes, and he stopped,” Nelson said. “I was able to put the ball on his back shoulder.”
Most of BYU’s last drive had Tulsa on its heels after it held Nelson in check most of the game.
“We had an opportunity a couple of times to stop them,” Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said. “Riley Nelson made a heck of a run on either third or fourth down when we kind of had him wrapped up and he broke a tackle and got down…I just think they executed really well in a tough situation at the end. Really good teams do that.”
Tulsa’s G.J. Kinne lofted a towering 30-yard pass to Bryan Burnham in one corner of the end zone to give the Golden Hurricane its second lead, 21-17 with 10:42 remaining.
On that drive, the often-creative Kinne (17 of 31 for 214 yards and three touchdowns) converted a third-and-10, third-and-8 and third-and-12.
“We knew we would score [again],” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “We had to be fierce competitors, and that made the difference.”
Earlier in the second half, Tulsa kicker Kevin Fitzpatrick missed a plenty-long, 46-yard field-goal attempt wide right, likely three points the Golden Hurricane could have used later.
BYU improved to 7-1 all-time against Tulsa. Hoffman and Tulsa’s Dexter McCoil, who picked off Nelson twice, were named their respective teams’ most outstanding players. Nelson threw three interceptions.
Tulsa reaped nothing from what should have been two first-half interceptions. One was nullified for offsides, and the other by McCoil led to a stalled-out drive at midfield. Otherwise, Tulsa’s 14-10 halftime cushion would have been wider.
For most of the half, Nelson’s throws were off-target. He was nearly picked off twice more, but his best throw came shortly before halftime on a highlight-reel moment and got BYU back into the game.
The left-handed Nelson rolled left, ran out of green turf along the the left sideline and fired back across his body to Hoffman near the goal line. Hoffman stretched out for a 17-yard touchdown to pull BYU within 14-10 at intermission.
How that BYU score unfolded took several moving parts, especially Reynolds. Nelson dropped back but moved left as the pocket collapsed on him. Reynolds had lost his footing — and helmet — against onrushing Tulsa defensive end Cory Dorris.
Reynolds got up, charged helmetless after Dorris and flattened him before he could do the same to Nelson (17 of 40 for 250 yards and three TDs). Reynolds couldn’t do everything: Tulsa’s Tyrunn Walker still wiped Nelson out of bounds on the throw.
The play gave BYU’s offense some redemption after Tulsa — despite not capitalizing on some gifts — led 14-3 on Kinne TD passes to Ricky Johnson (eight yards) and Clay Sears (14). Those scoring drives covered 76 and 86 yards, respectively.
Nelson’s second TD pass to Hoffman late in the third quarter gave BYU a 17-14 lead.