Utah State 24

(0-1, 0-0 conf)

Brigham Young University Cougars

Brigham Young University 27

(10-3, 0-0 conf)

FINAL 1st 2nd 3rd 4th T
Utah State 7 7 7 3 24
Brigham Young University 10 3 0 14 27
6:00 PM MDT, September 30, 2011
Sport Men's Football
Level: College

Nelson creates magic in thrilling BYU football win over USU

BYU vs. Utah State
2011-10-01T00:30:00Z 2013-11-06T21:45:08Z Nelson creates magic in thrilling BYU football win over USUJared Lloyd - Daily Herald Daily Herald
October 01, 2011 12:30 am  • 

When the BYU football team got the ball at its own 4-yard line trailing visiting Utah State 24-20 with only 2:36 left in the game, Cougar junior linebacker Brandon Ogletree walked up to head coach Bronco Mendenhall on the sideline.

"He said, 'do you remember the spring game?'" Mendenhall recalled, referring to the way junior quarterback Riley Nelson had led his team on a dramatic late-game drive in that contest back in April.

"He was smiling," Mendenhall continued. "Ogletree's a twisted, goofy middle linebacker but that showed the mindset. It mattered so much to me that he would believe in his teammate so much that he would come to me and say that."

That faith proved to be well-founded as Nelson guided the Cougars on an exciting drive the length of the field, capping it with a fortunate bounce off a tipped pass that nestled into the arms of BYU sophomore tight end Marcus Mathews to steal the thrilling 27-24 win.

"That was an even football game," Mendenhall said. "Those were two teams playing hard that were equally matched. It was an epic struggle to see who could find a way to make one more play and win the game."

Backed up against its own goal line with the clock ticking, the Cougars began a methodical march down the field. Mixing passes with timely quarterback runs by the athletic Nelson, BYU moved out to the 34-yard line.

Facing a second-and-10, the junior came up with the longest play of the drive. The play called for him to sprint out to the right, but the initial read was covered.

Nelson eluded a rushing USU defender, then launched the ball deep to the middle of the field.

BYU senior receiver McKay Jacobson had been running a go-route, but when he saw the scramble he tried to find a spot to make a play and adjusted perfectly to get the reception.

"It was a desperation play," Nelson admitted. "Jacobson had a clear path to the middle of the field, with his defender deeper than he was. I just threw it up and we got some luck."

The 40-yard completion put the Cougars into scoring range at the 23-yard line and they didn't need long to capitalize.

Nelson used a quarterback draw to get the ball to the 13, but only 15 seconds remained on the clock.

After the Aggies called a timeout, trying to regroup, Nelson looked toward senior running back JJ Di Luigi, running near the goal line.

"It was one-on-one with no safety over the top," Nelson explained. "The defender had outside leverage, so I went to him. The defender held him and the ball was tipped up, We got lucky that the ball was bouncing our way tonight."

The pigskin ricocheted into the air, coming down right where Mathews waited to put the Cougars in front.

While the sophomore said he was fired up to make such an exciting play, he admitted that he also felt some self-preservation.

"There were no words to describe it," Mathews said. "But honestly, I hurt my ribs earlier in the game and so when I caught it, I ran away from everyone because I didn't want to get tackled."

It was a stunning conclusion to a game that saw BYU in a 24-13 hole after a short Utah State field goal early in the fourth quarter.

The Cougars, behind the spark of Nelson's grit and determination, rallied quickly and marched 60 yards on the next drive to narrow the gap. Nelson found sophomore wide receiver Cody Hoffman in the front corner of the end zone for BYU's second touchdown of the game.

The Aggies surged back down the field when senior running back Michael Smith broke free for a 53-yard gain, but the drive stalled. On fourth-and-9 from the 30-yard line, USU elected to fake a field goal attempt but Cougar sophomore safety Daniel Sorensen batted the ball away.

"It's my job to cover the tight end and he came off the line," Sorensen explained. "I covered him and reacted. Football is all about reaction."

With Nelson confidently driving BYU back down the field, it appeared that the home team might move back in front. A short-yardage situation just inside the Aggie 30-yard line, however, became a disaster for the Cougars when the ball was stripped from Di Luigi with just 3:53 to go.

The only turnover in the contest by either side might've cost BYU a shot at the win, but the Cougar defense only allowed a single yard on the next three plays.

USU fans were ecstatic when punter Tyler Bennett's kick rolled dead 67 yards downfield at the Cougar 4-yard line, but that set the stage for the wild finish.

Nelson, who played his freshman year at Utah State and whose brother DJ has committed to become an Aggie, made the most of his opportunity.

He entered the game midway through the third quarter and finished with 144 yards and two touchdowns on 10-of-14 passing, as well as 62 yards on 11 carries on the ground.

"He (Riley) is someone I admire for just the natural competitive mindset that he has," Mendenhall said. "He hasn't been on the sideline pouting but has been out on special teams helping our team. He's a fierce competitor."

BYU put themselves in a hole early as USU junior running back Robert Turbin took the first play from scrimmage and ran 80 yards for a touchdown.

But the Cougars came back to take the lead on a Justin Sorensen field goal and a one-yard plunge by sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps.

USU regained the advantage when freshman quarterback Chuckie Keaton scrambled and hit Eric Moats for a 13-yard score in the second quarter.

The Aggies added another Keaton TD pass, this one on a screen to Turbin, while BYU could only manage another field goal, making it a 21-13 game after three quarters.

It required a heroic effort in the final period to come out on top, but Mendenhall says he likes what he sees from his team.

"Our team is battered and bruised and sweating and dripping, and that's the way I want to win games," the head coach said.

Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or jlloyd@heraldextra.com. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.

Copyright 2015 Daily Herald. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Latest scores and more from all sports

MLB:  News | Scoreboard NFL:  News | Scoreboard NBA:  News | Scoreboard
NHL:  News | Scoreboard NCAA FB:  News | Scoreboard NCAA BK:  News | Scoreboard
Golf:  News | Leaderboard Auto Racing:  News | Results Tennis:  News | Scoreboard
Other: MLS  |  Womens NCAA BK  |  WNBA  |  CFL  |  Minor League Baseball  |  NFL Draft  |  NBA Draft

Follow Cougarblue