Riley Nelson has done it again. Like a broken record that BYU Cougar fans love to hear, some kid from Logan who was once hated in his own hometown is now the toast of Provo for leading his BYU Cougars to a 24-21 win over Tulsa at the Bell Helicopters Armed Forces Bowl.
On the day that Katy Perry also filed for divorce from Russell Brand — which sadly won’t preclude anyone from having to listen to her music — Nelson became the single most hated person in Tulsa on one play.
All he needed to do to get to that point was pull a rabbit out of his helmet, watch it transform into a football, and with 11 seconds remaining he would spike the ball, stopping the clock.
Instead he fake spiked it and threw the winning touchdown to wide receiver Cody Hoffman in the corner of the end zone when the Tulsa defenders were expecting something else.
“Well, when I was little I always used to watch NFL films hours and hours on end. I used to stay up late watching them, make my mama mad,” said Nelson. “ I vividly remember Dan Marino doing that. I don’t know if it was a playoff game or whatever it was. I can see him doing that.”
Nelson relived his childhood dream in Dallas, alright, in the only way he knows: by throwing caution to the Texas breeze. He rolled out and found Hoffman in the corner of the end zone. Ball game.
“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,” said BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall. “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.”
Up to that point Nelson hadn’t done much all game, throwing just 17 completions in 40 attempts for 250 yards and three touchdowns against two interceptions — both of which Nelson squeezed into double coverage.
In fact, the previous drive leading up to the game winner started at the BYU 20.
Two big plays, one from Nelson to Hoffman, still resulted in a Cougar punt which pinned Tulsa back at its 1-yard-line with eight minutes to play and set the stage for some magic.
After Tulsa managed to get out of its end zone the Golden Hurricane drive stalled and they were forced to punt, and the Cougars started their bowl-winning drive at the Tulsa 48.
In some ways you were waiting to see if Riley would let the game get away from the Cougars like it did the last time he was in Texas, in Cowboys Stadium against TCU.
In that game he gave a fist pump and high five after a meaningless two-point conversion which cut the Horned Frogs lead to 10. It got him on ESPN SportsCenter, but it didn’t get the job done.
On a Friday afternoon in December, however, he helped his team win the Armed Forces Bowl, took a lap around the track at Ford Stadium and high fived all the fans, thanking them for making it out to Dallas.
“But, man, that’s the way I play the game. Coaches coach and players play. I kind of felt it inside. I felt it was a high-reward, low-risk play,” said Nelson. “If it’s not there, I can throw it out of the back of the end zone and we still have some time to make some plays.”
But it wasn’t just Riley who made this win possible.
Huge stands, time and again, by a stalwart BYU defense put Riley and the Cougars in excellent field position on three straight possessions to end the game.
The Cougar special teams did the rest, pinning Tulsa deep in its own territory.
On the first two drives of the fourth quarter BYU’s offense didn’t do anything with its possessions but that Cougar D — which shut down Tulsa’s running game, holding it to just 38 total yards — gave its offense one more opportunity with just under three minutes to go.
And that’s when Nelson capitalized on his self-induced earlier misfortunes and immortalized himself, lifting he and his teammates the Cougars to another 10-win season.