DALLAS -- When BYU quarterback Riley Nelson was a child, he irritated his mother by staying up late to watch hours of NFL Films Productions.
At Gerald J. Ford Stadium on Friday, against Tulsa in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, the adolescent film study paid off.
With the final seconds of the fourth quarter ticking away, and the Cougars down 21-17, Nelson remembered a play he saw Dan Marino pull off in a game against the Jets in 1994.
Mirroring Marino, Nelson faked a spike that would have stopped the clock and hit wide receiver Cody Hoffman on the right side of the end zone with 11 seconds in the game for a 24-21 victory.
"We had a signal for it," said Nelson, who audibled to the play, red alert, after the BYU coaches called for a spike to stop the clock. "We hadn't practiced it for a few months, but we had it in our bag of tricks."
With the ball on the 2-yard line, Nelson saw the Tulsa defenders standing in anticipation of the spike. When he didn't spike the ball, and Hoffman took off for the end zone, the Tulsa cornerback overreacted.
"The first thing the corner did was sprint to the back of the end zone not to get beat on a fade," Nelson said. "I had Cody's eyes, and he stopped. I was able to put the ball on his back shoulder."
The game-winning touchdown pass finished a 12-play, 48-yard drive that took 4:07 off the clock. Nelson had scrambled for a first down on fourth-and-9 earlier to keep the drive going.
"He just wasn't going to be denied helping our team win," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
Nelson struggled against Tulsa's defense for much of the game but finished each half strong. He completed 17 of 40 passes for 250 yards with two interceptions, but his three touchdown throws -- all to Hoffman -- came at the right times.
"I think Riley battled," Mendenhall said. "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. 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."
BYU (10-3) hadn't moved the ball well at all in the first half, but Tulsa muffed a punt at its 17 with 25 seconds left until halftime. Nelson completed a touchdown pass to Hoffman on the next play to cut Tulsa's halftime lead to 14-10.
"Going up the tunnel, our guys were acting like we were behind," Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said. "They had not driven the ball at that point. We just had to go back and dig deeper."
BYU kept Tulsa's high-powered offense out of rhythm for much of the game. Tulsa (8-5) entered the game averaging more than 200 rushing yards a game but totaled just 37 on Friday.
The Cougars' special teams made big plays as well, including the fumble recovery at the end of the first half. Riley Stephenson punted eight times for the Cougars, pinning Tulsa inside its 20 on seven of the attempts.
"Defense and special teams kept us in it," Nelson said. "BYU's offense is known for taking control and taking big leads. We didn't do that today. ... Our defense stepped up and played hard."
Tulsa gave up its lead when Nelson threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Hoffman with 1:41 left in the third quarter. But senior Tulsa QB G.J. Kinne put his team back up with a 30-yard pass to Bryan Burnham four minutes into the fourth quarter.
BYU's defense, however, recovered and stopped Tulsa with a little more than four minutes left to set up the winning drive.
"I had complete confidence we would stop them," Mendenhall said.
Hoffman, who set an Armed Forces Bowl record with three touchdown receptions, earned most outstanding player honors for BYU.
"Me and Riley have a lot of chemistry," Hoffman said.
Brent Shirley, 817-390-7760