BYU wins Armed Forces Bowl 24-21 over Tulsa
DALLAS—BYU quarterback Riley Nelson was thinking about Dan Marino when he ignored the play called by his coach.
Instead of spiking the ball to stop the clock, Nelson faked that move and then threw his third touchdown pass, a 2-yarder to Cody Hoffman with 11 seconds left to give the Cougars a 24-21 victory over Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl on Friday.
"When I was little, I always used to watch NFL Films hours and hours on end. ... I vividly remember Dan Marino doing that," Nelson said. "His throw was a lot more impressive."
Nelson's fake-and-throw was just as effective, wrapping up BYU's fifth 10-win season in seven years under coach Bronco Mendenhall. The Cougars (10-3) finished their first year of football independence following their departure from the Mountain West Conference after last season.
The Cougars' version of the play Hall of Fame quarterback Marino pulled off in a 1994 game for the Miami Dolphins is called "Red Alert." BYU hadn't practiced it for a couple of months before Nelson made the call on his own.
"(Red Alert) is a fake spike and then throw a touchdown, or you better throw a touchdown," Mendenhall said, smiling. "To have a quarterback in that situation fake spike it on his own and throw a touchdown and be on the same page with the receiver, that's the kind of magic of the guys that I get to coach."
Hoffman caught eight passes for 122 yards and all three TDs. The first score came just before halftime after a crushing block by a helmet-less lineman gave Nelson enough time to spot Hoffman.
G.J. Kinne threw three TD passes in his final game for Tulsa (8-5), including a 30-yarder to Bryan Burnham with 10:42 left for a 21-17 lead.
Tulsa, whose other four losses this year came against Top 10 teams, failed to take advantage when BYU was penalized for running into the punter with about 6 minutes left. The Golden Hurricane punted the ball away four plays later, setting up the winning drive for the Cougars.
BYU needed 12 plays to go 48 yards. Nelson converted a fourth-and-9 with a 14-yard scramble and the Cougars got to the 2 with no timeouts and the clock still running.
"As our guys hustled to the ball, their guys kind of stood up because we were yelling `Clock it!'" Riley said.
"They caught us by surprise. They caught everybody by surprise," said Tulsa defensive back Dexter McCoil, who had two interceptions and a third nullified by a penalty.
Kinne, whose 81 career TD passes fell two short of the school record, was 17 for 31 for 214 yards. The Golden Hurricane were held to a season-low 272 total yards, and lost their second consecutive game after a seven-game winning streak.
"We had a lot of adversity early in the season," Kinne said. "For us to rattle off some big wins, get to a bowl I think was a great accomplishment. There's definitely positives. It was tough to end this way."
On the opening drive of the game, Kinne scrambled and threw a 5-yard TD pass to Ricky Johnson. Tulsa led 14-3 after Clay Sears' 14-yard TD catch.
But the Golden Hurricane fumbled just before halftime when punt returner J.D. Ratliff lost the ball after being hit by 249-pound long snapper Reed Hornung. BYU's David Foote recovered at the Tulsa 17.
On the next play, Nelson was scrambling to his left to avoid pressure and threw back toward the middle of the field after 305-pound offensive tackle Matt Reynolds, who had lost his helmet on the play, retreated to knock down flattened pursuing 275-pound defensive end Cory Dorris. Hoffman's TD catch cut Tulsa's lead to 14-10.
The Cougars went in front for the first time on Hoffman's 30-yard catch late in the third quarter. Hoffman also had a 20-yard catch on third-and-10 earlier in the drive.
That came after Tulsa's first down at the BYU 14 turned into fourth-and-25 when linebacker Kyle Van Noy tackled running back Ja'Terian Douglas for a 6-yard loss and sacked Kinne on the next play. Kevin Fitzpatrick then was wide right on a 46-yard field goal attempt.
Tulsa had won three consecutive bowl games since losing 25-13 to Utah in the Armed Forces Bowl five years ago. The Golden Hurricane also lost their regular-season finale against then-undefeated Houston just more than a month ago with a spot in the Conference USA championship game on the line.
"I told them I loved them. I thanked them. This has been an incredible run. These guys endured a lot of adversity," first-year Tulsa coach Bill Blakenship, relaying what he told his players. "They never, never flinched. These guys never, never looked for a way out. They just kept finding a way to fight back, and we did it all year. I'm very, very proud of them."