Spring game ends in dramatic fashion

It was a whiteout Saturday as grey skies sprinkled snow around 5,500 Cougar fans in LaVell Edwards Stadium. Although both the blue and white teams put on a show, it was a well-balanced offensive and defensive performance that led to a dramatic come-from-behind overtime win by the Riley Nelson-led white team.

During Saturday's spring game, there were fireworks on both sides of the ball in what was a very balanced offensive and defensive attack. The Jake Heaps-led blue team took a 10-0 lead and had all the momentum. That is until the white team tied the game up at 10-10 in the second half.

"This is a great opportunity for us just to go out there and have fun and cut loose," Heaps said. "It was a blast being out there!"

"I'm very optimistic and I'm very excited, and the reason is we have great talent on both sides of the ball, and we have some great depth on both sides of the ball," said Coach Doman. "We've got more numbers than we've had in the past with more talent from top to bottom, and so you see more competitive battles between the ones and the twos. We have really good talent, and man, this is as strong as we've been in six years as far as depth and talent."

After 15 series between the two teams, the fourth quarter came to an end with the scored still tied.

"With 34 seconds left in the game, I'm saying, 'Will somebody ask Coach Mendenhall if we're going into overtime, because we're going to launch one downfield and risk a turnover,'" Coach Doman said with a smile. "Then we got word we were going into overtime, so we got a little less risky."

"Of course you want it to go into overtime!" Heaps said with a laugh. "You want a winner and loser and, you know, it was a lot of for our fans having it go into overtime. It was a great game!"

"Coach [Mendenhall] doesn't like a tie just like the rest of us," said Nelson. "It's like kissing your sister. Isn't that the old saying? And so Coach is a competitive guy just like the rest of us, and so he wants to see an outcome like the rest of us."

Running back J.J. Di Luigi busted through the offensive line to give the blue team a 17-10 lead in overtime. The blue defense then held tight and forced the white offense into a fourth-and-long situation.

The ball was snapped. Nelson hit walk-on tight end – and grandson of legendary coach LaVell Edwards – Mathew Edwards over the middle. Forcing one defender to miss, Edwards then stretched the ball out, placing the nose of the ball just over the first-down marker.

On the following play, Nelson avoided a would-be sack and took off in a dash down the field. In a foot race with the defense, Nelson made it across the goal line and got the white team within one point of the blue team. Would the spring game go into double overtime?

Not with Coach Tidwell coaching the white team. He wanted to win and sent the offense back out to go for two rather than kick the extra point.

Nelson took the snap and ran a play-action fake to the running back. He rolled out in a three-option play; he could run it, hit the running back or throw it into the end zone. His decision? He threw the ball to streaking tight end Brian Sampson, who came down with the ball in tight coverage. Game over.

"It was just a play-action rollout," Nelson said. "You know, it was three yards, give me the run-pass option. I sent our tight ends Brian Sampson and Mathew Edwards across, and both had made plays throughout the game. I threw it up to Brian, and the dude has long arms. He can throw down a basketball like it's nothing, so I put it up high and he went up and got it. It was a great play.

"The way it ended, I think it was fitting because we have a very good football team on all sides of the ball. To win by one point in overtime is a direct reflection on where we are heading as a team."

Although his team lost, Heaps was caught up in the excitement of the game. But if he's going to lose a game – even ones that don't count in the win/loss column – this is one he's okay with because BYU still won in the end.

"It was a tough loss for the blue team in the end, but you love to see guys making plays," Heaps said. "Riley made a great throw and Brian Sampson made a great catch to win it. If you're going to lose, you want to lose it like that."

Heaps was excited to see how both sides of the team played in such a fitting game.

"You know, it was really good," Heaps said. "The execution was really great. Obviously you want to see more points on the board and stuff like that, but our level of execution is going to continue growing and growing. Today was a lot of fun!"

In speaking of fun, the one coach who was carried off the field by his team was Coach Tidwell. Players surrounded him, hoisted him high into the air and carried him off the field. In a twist of irony, after the offense made the game-winning play, a defensive coach was hailed as the hero, while the offensive coordinator of the same team wasn't.

"Coach Tidwell ran out and called a timeout without me knowing he was going to call it," said Doman with a laugh. "I was ready to call a play. No, Coach Tidwell, if you were to do an evaluation for heading coaching, he should get an A+. In fact, Coach Reynolds should be buying him lunch and dinner."

As it turns out, there was a friendly wager between the blue and white coaching staffs based on the outcome of this game.

"They have to buy us lunch, that's part of the deal in this win," Doman said with a smile. "The blue coaching staff has to buy the white coaching staff lunch, and that's okay for everybody to know that."

Sounds like Coach Doman not only wants a free lunch from the blue team's coaching staff, but he also wanted to add a little competitive, good-natured ribbing as well.

Saturday's standout players

On the defensive side of the ball, there were some younger prospects that got a chance to play and make some standout plays.

New safety Mike Hague showed well during the time he was in. He made a punishing blow on former offensive teammate Riley Nelson.

"Yeah, it was helmet to helmet!" said Coach Doman. "Riley was the running back, and so they don't call those as much as they do the defenseless quarterback or receiver. I … wanted our coaches to teach those refs a lesson there for a bit to call a helmet-to-helmet."

Nevertheless, Doman had high praise for Hague.

"Mike Hague will be a great asset to the defense," Coach Doman said. "We'll miss him offensively because he's really in great shape and he would have been a good running back, but I think he'll help our team more on defense this year."

Meanwhile, Daniel Sorensen recorded five tackles and two pass breakups. He was all over the field and made a punishing hit on a swing pass.

Seth Probert seemed to be all over the field from the outside linebacker position. A walk-on, and the grandson of Marion Probert – one of the few Cougars who has had his jersey retired – he recorded five tackles and showed good speed and aggression. If he keeps playing like he did Saturday, he won't be on walk-on status very long.

From the middle linebacker position, Spencer Hadley was tough against the running game, a facet of the offense Coach Doman wanted to get going Saturday. Hadley ended the day with four tackles.

Cornerback Jordan Johnson recorded an interception and was able to outrun the offense for a pick-six. Austin Jorgensen tipped the ball in the air, allowing Johnson to come down with it and hit pay-dirt.

Cant leave out the big boys

Freshman nose guard Travis Tuiloma recorded two tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery. After collapsing the pocket, Tuiloma was able to secure the fumble.

USC transfer Hebron Loni Fangupo recorded two tackles, a quarterback knockdown on Munns – he wasn't wearing the coveted yellow jersey that Jake Heaps had – and forced a fumble.

Veteran Eathyn Manumaleuna also recorded five tackles, two sacks and a tackle for a loss in what was a very good day for the defensive line.


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