For most BYU football fans, any term with "red" in it automatically brings images of rival Utah. That's why, for example, Cougars often refer to the area inside the 20-yard line as the "blue zone" instead of the "red zone."

But that may not be the case with "red alert" after Friday's dramatic 24-21 BYU victory over Tulsa in the 2011 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl.

With the Cougars trailing 21-17 with less than 30 seconds to play and the clock ticking, BYU junior quarterback Riley Nelson connected with sophomore tight end Marcus Mathews to move the ball to the 2-yard line.

The Cougar coaching staff told Nelson to spike the ball and kill the clock so the team would still have two plays to score the go-ahead touchdown.

Instead, Nelson went to the "red alert" audible, which called for the fake spike and then BYU to run a play, hoping to catch the defense off guard.

Nelson found sophomore wide receiver Cody Hoffman with a pass to the back shoulder in the front corner of the end zone to give the Cougars the lead with only 11 seconds to play.

"I knew we had enough time to get two, maybe three shots at the end zone," Nelson explained. "As our guys hustled to the ball, their guys kind of stood up. I looked at the clock and thought, I can be quick and still give us time for two more plays. I gave the signal and we ran it."

Nelson said he saw the corner sprint back, trying not to get beat on the fade, but that left Hoffman open for the score.

"I just put the ball back shoulder and it was a great play by him (Hoffman)," the BYU quarterback said. "I can't tell you how proud I am of him and the way he played today."

Nelson said that winning a game on a play like that took him back to his days of watching NFL films and seeing Dan Marino do the fake spike.

"His throw was a lot more impressive because he is Dan Marino," Nelson said. "His was from a lot farther out."

BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said players need the freedom to make plays - especially if it works.

"We told Nelson to spike it but I do believe in the freedom of players and I trust them to do what they think is right to help our team win," he said. "I believe that they are prepared well-enough to take chances but they better be right when they take them."

Hoffman, who earned Starr Most Outstanding Player honors for his eight catches for 122 yards and three touchdowns including the game-winner, said he and Nelson have great chemistry and that helps on plays like that.

"I think it started with us rooming together last year but we know what we are going to do," he said. "He just makes plays on his own."

Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship said it was just a matter of one team making the big play.

"I just think they executed really well in a tough situation at the end," he said. "Really good teams do that. There is a reason they won nine games this season."

The thrilling final touchdown came with just 11 seconds to go and Tulsa simply didn't have enough time to rally.

The Cougars almost didn't get the final drive started as they faced a fourth-and-9 at the 47-yard line.

Although he had been kept in check and only gained 16 total yards on the ground for the game, Nelson found the hole he needed and was able to scramble for 14 yards to keep BYU's victory hopes alive.

"That scramble was every bit as important as the last play of the game," Mendenhall said. "Nelson helps our team win by competing. I think he battled. Nothing came easy for him. But when it came down to driving the team to win the game, he wasn't going to be denied. That's who he is."

That conversion and the dramatic late TD provided a fitting conclusion to a great game that saw both teams make big plays.

"Coach Mendenhall and I talked all week about how balanced we thought these two teams were, how similar and what type of battle this was going to be," said Blankenship. "We certainly fell on the wrong side at the end."

Other than the final drive, the biggest plays of the game for the Cougars came in the final seconds of the first half.

With less than 30 seconds to go in the second quarter, the sputtering BYU offense had fallen behind Tulsa 14-3 and once again had been forced to punt.

This time, however, the Cougar cover team came up with the key play when Golden Hurricane returner J.D. Ratliff couldn't hang on to the ball and BYU recovered the fumble at the Tulsa 17-yard line.

In one of the classic plays of the season and a fitting last-game image for Cougar senior offensive lineman Matt Reynolds, BYU only needed on play to capitalize on the mistake.

Facing heavy pressure from the Golden Hurricane defense, Nelson rolled to his left while being hotly pursued. Reynolds, who had lost his helmet on the play, peeled back to take out the nearest Tulsa player, giving Nelson time to find Hoffman cutting back across the field.

Hoffman then finished the play by dragging a couple of Golden Hurricane players as he lunged and broke the plane of the end zone for the first BYU touchdown.

"That was the most memorable play to me," Mendenhall said. "Nelson's scrambling, Reynolds without his helmet peels back and hits somebody, then he throws it to Hoffman. That would be the pla to summarize the game. It's just fun to watch these guys try hard."

By reducing the Tulsa lead to just four points, the Cougars seized the momentum and went in front on another Nelson-to-Hoffman strike - this one from 30-yards out - midway through the third quarter.

The Golden Hurricanes came back strong, however, and regained the lead early in the fourth quarter on a 30-yard touchdown pass from quarterback G.J. Kinne to receiver Bryan Burnham.

Both teams had to punt on their next possessions but a 22-yard punt return by BYU returner JD Falslev set the stage for the big last drive that won the game for the Cougars.

Each head coach expressed their pride in their players and how they performed in the last game of the year.

"I was really pleased with the way our team battled, with the grit and determination especially in the second half," Mendenhall said. "I think they played hungry. We have a strong reputation of when games are close, we find a way to win."

Blankenship said: "I could not be prouder of the men I get to lead. I'm so thankful for the year I had with these seniors and the way they battled every single game. I couldn't be more thankful or more proud. We just came up a little short today."

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