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2011 Armed Forces Bowl Recap

BYU Cougars vs Tulsa Golden Hurricane - BYU 24, Tulsa 21

The Brigham Young Cougars were dogged by a quarterback controversy that persisted throughout the regular season. It was a controversy severe enough to push quarterback Jake Heaps to the University of Kansas earlier this month. Yet, for all of the struggles encountered by BYU’s offense, head coach Bronco Mendenhall and backup signal caller Riley Nelson never stopped competing. Now, they own a 10-win season as a result.

It wasn’t the prettiest 10-win season you’ll ever see, and it came against a comparatively soft schedule, but BYU still has to feel very satisfied about its double-digit win total, made real on Friday afternoon in University Park, Texas, on the campus of Southern Methodist University. The Armed Forces Bowl is typically played in Fort Worth on the campus of Texas Christian University, but with TCU’s stadium under construction, this postseason pageant moved across the state of Texas. BYU was able to fend off the Tulsa Golden Hurricane in this alternate-site encounter, and that’s why the people from Provo, Utah, will enjoy a happy holiday weekend as 2011 comes to a close.

The outlook was grim for most of the day for BYU, a team that lost two of its first three games this season and looked like a dead duck before September came to an end. Yet, as was the case with the entirety of the 2011 campaign, BYU picked itself off the canvas after a bad start against Tulsa. This resilient club made plenty of mistakes but overcame them by the time the dust had settled.

The first big play of the day came with 25 seconds before halftime, when Tulsa had a 14-3 lead and all the momentum in the world against a lifeless BYU offense. The Golden Hurricane never should have had anyone back to field a BYU punt, but sure enough, Tulsa muffed the kick inside its own red zone, thereby giving the Cougars a comeback route. When Nelson threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Cody Hoffman with 12 seconds left in the first half, BYU received a get-out-of-jail-free card. Despite being dominated for almost all 30 minutes of the first half, BYU trailed by only four points (14-10) at the intermission. This theme continued into the second half: Tulsa gained an advantageous position, only for BYU to find a way to climb back and eventually reign supreme.

Tulsa’s defense picked off Nelson early in the second half, setting up the Golden Hurricane just outside the BYU 20. Tulsa had a chance to gain a 21-10 lead, but a pair of tackles for loss by BYU’s Kyle Van Noy not only prevented the Golden Hurricane from getting a touchdown; the two high-impact plays knocked Tulsa into long field goal range. No longer dealing with a chip shot, Tulsa kicker Kevin Fitzpatrick pushed a 46-yard kick wide of the right upright, and BYU received a reprieve. The two teams exchanged touchdowns to make the score 21-17 Tulsa, and with the Golden Hurricane clinging to a lead in the final minutes, Mr. Nelson was forced to deliver the goods in a make-or-break situation.

He answered the bell, just as he’d done throughout the regular season.

Nelson was only 17 for 40 as a passer in this contest, but he made the handful of plays he needed to make. On a 4th and 9 play from the Tulsa 47, Nelson shed two Tulsa linebackers on a 14-yard scramble which kept BYU alive. Later, Nelson converted a 3rd and 6 with another run to move the ball to the Golden Hurricane 8. With 11 seconds left on the clock, Nelson hit Hoffman with a two-yard touchdown toss to complete the ballsy last-minute drive. BYU had once again surmounted a maze of obstacles.

It was just another day at the office for Riley Nelson… even though a bowl game is never just another day at the office.

By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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