PROVO — BYU hadn't held a Blue-White spring scrimmage in years, so players and coaches apparently wanted to make up for lost time.
On a frigid, snowy afternoon at LaVell Edwards Stadium, the Cougars slogged through a hard-hitting, defensive battle that produced a dramatic finish.
For a team that had displayed considerable intensity and competitiveness through 14 spring practices, it wasn't surprising that the contest went into overtime.
Backup quarterback Riley Nelson ran 15 yards for a touchdown in OT, then completed a pass in the end zone to redshirt freshman tight end Bryan Sampson for the game-winning two-point conversion in the White squad's narrow 18-17 victory over the Blue team.
The contest, which featured four 12-minute quarters, appeared to have ended in a 10-10 tie, but BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall decided to play an overtime session to settle the issue.
"Coach doesn't like a tie, just like the rest of us. They say it's like kissing your sister. Isn't that the old saying?" said Nelson, who completed 8-of-11 passes for 149 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Rhen Brown, and rushed nine times for 33 yards. "He likes to see an outcome just like everyone else.
"To have it end the way it did was fitting because we have a very good football team on all sides of the ball. To win by one point in overtime was a direct reflection of where we're headed as a team."
Sampson's score touched off a jubilant celebration by the White team, as linebackers coach Paul Tidwell, who served as the White coach, was hoisted onto the shoulders of his players.
"I've never seen an assistant coach on the shoulders of a team coming off a spring game," Mendenhall said, "but it seemed normal for this team. ... (The scrimmage) was like a regular practice. At the end of every practice, someone has been celebrating, just like they did in the end zone today. That wasn't a new thing. It really matters to them who wins.
"Whether they're playing ping pong in the locker room or whatever they're doing, they like to compete. They think it's fun."
The fact that the second-string offense pulled off the victory in a clutch situation against the first-team defense speaks volumes about where the program is, according to offensive coordinator Brandon Doman.
"It means that our football program has come a long ways in six years," he said. "To be able to play a football game, as competitive as it was, and as fun as it was, means that we have depth of talent, which we have not had in years past, which we do have now. It means we have a good football team."
Starting quarterback Jake Heaps, who led the first-team offense for the Blue squad, completed 16-of-21 passes for 126 yards but wasn't completely satisfied with his performance.
"I got a little greedy. I wanted to get a couple of long touchdowns passes and get a couple of bombs out there," he said. "We had some good drives. It's tough when we get a couple of penalties that put us back."
Redshirt freshman cornerback Jordan Johnson scored the first points of the game, for the Blue team, midway through the third quarter, after linebacker Austen Jorgensen tipped a Jason Munns pass. Johnson caught the tip and raced 25 yards for the TD.
The Blue team went up 10-0 after a 37-yard field goal by Justin Sorensen.
Nelson led a White rally by throwing a 73-yard TD pass to Brown, which cut the deficit to 10-7.
On the ensuing series, Blue quarterback Christian Stewart fumbled the snap on the 11-yard line and the ball was recovered by White redshirt freshman defensive lineman Travis Tuiloma. Sorensen ended up drilling a 27-yard field goal to tie the score at 10-10.
Late in the contest, Heaps led the Blue squad on a sustained drive into White territory. Sorensen had a shot to kick the potential game-winning field goal, but his 37-yard attempt sailed wide right with 34 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime.
Running back JJ DiLuigi sprinted for a 17-yard touchdown run that put the Blue ahead in OT, 17-10.
Then came Nelson's heroics.
"I've been here three years and I've never had a spring game," said the junior from Logan, who started the first three games last season before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery. "I don't know if coach Mendenhall has ever had one because of injuries and stuff like that.
"So, coming in, we were really excited to get the opportunity to actually have a game with quarters and keep score rather than what we usually do. That's why the energy level was so high. It's been six months since we competed last."
Mendenhall enjoyed the way the Blue-White game and spring practices concluded.
"Our team is competitive, they like to have fun and they're physical," he said. "I think that's what you saw today. They made significant progress this spring. The (scrimmage) format matched this team. They wanted to compete again and they wanted to have fun. They love playing football. That was evident at the end."
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