UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas -- The BYU coaching staff -- not to mention a slew of players standing on the sidelines -- were jumping up and down signaling quarterback Riley Nelson to spike the ball and stop the clock with the Cougars at the Tulsa 2-yard line and down 21-17.
But Nelson saw an opportunity and called his own play, giving the signal for a fake spike and a quick pass in the end zone.
"Half our guys didn't even get the signal and stood up, which was good because the defense stood up too," Nelson said.
But wide receiver Cody Hoffman got the signal. He ran into the end zone and then curled back toward his quarterback, catching the pass in the front corner of the end zone to give BYU the lead with just 11 seconds left. That gave BYU a 24-21 lead and eventually the win in the 2011 Armed Forces Bowl played on the campus of SMU just north of downtown Dallas.
"We have a fake spike play, where you fake it and throw a touchdown -- or you better throw a touchdown," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "He did that completely on his own."
The game-winning drive, which took 4:07 minutes and went 48 yards on 12 plays, included a fourth-down conversion by Nelson. He ran 14 yards on fourth-and-9 at the Tulsa 47 to keep the drive going. BYU also converted two other third downs to set up the winning touchdown.
"We were going to stop the clock and run two plays," Nelson said. "But I looked at the clock and where we were. We practiced that. We had a signal for it and I figured this is low risk, high reward because if it's not there, I can throw it in the stands. But the call from the sidelines was to spike the ball and we just decided to go for it. It was great."
Nelson said he was only looking at Hoffman, who had caught two touchdown passes earlier in the game and finished with 122 receiving yards on eight catches. He was named BYU's player of the game.
"His stance was square and had no stagger in his feet," Nelson said about Hoffman. "It added to the effect. He hurried up and lined up. When I faked it, he turned his back and I had his eyes and he caught it. He's a beast and a big security blanket for me."
Apparently it didn't worry Nelson that he'd never run the fake spike in a game or even completed it in practice. The last time BYU worked on the play was early November.
"It just never worked," Nelson said. "We ran it six or seven times in practice and I threw it away every time."
Nelson admitted that once he returned to the sidelines after the play, he thought about Dan Marino and his famous fake spike play against the Jets in 1994. Marino threw a touchdown pass to Mark Ingram after rookie cornerback Aaron Glenn was fooled into thinking Marino was spiking.
"I remember watching that all the time," Nelson said. "That's Dan Marino 101 right there. Maybe watching TV isn't all that bad. What a great way to end the season. I've seen that play time after time and it's classic. To put this one in the record books and send the seniors out with a win is special."