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Associated Press
BYU quarterback Riley Nelson (13) fakes a hand off to Joshua Quezada, left, before passing in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

HONOLULU — BYU quarterback Riley Nelson exited the locker room and chugged down the last of his Gatorade before taking questions from reporters after the Cougars' 41-20 victory over Hawaii Saturday at Aloha Stadium.

It had been just three weeks since he suffered lung and rib injuries against Idaho, and until a week ago, there was a chance that Nelson wouldn't even be able to fly to Honolulu.

But he sure made the football fly against the Warriors — throwing for a career-high 363 yards and three touchdowns.

"Guys were making plays. There were a lot of yards after the catch," Nelson said. "For anyone to throw for 300 yards, that needs to happen. You need guys to catch some short routes for you and turn them into big gainers."

As for his health? "I'm tired. I never got over the jet-lag," he said. His ribs and lungs? "Perfect," he said.

While coach Bronco Mendenhall told the media a decision on Nelson's availability would be made at game time, Nelson said it was last Tuesday that he knew he would start.

Nelson's teammates were amazed by his performance.

"He's an animal. He's such a freak," wide receiver Ross Apo said of Nelson. "You probably couldn't even tell that he punctured his lungs a couple weeks ago. He completed that pass to Cody, when Cody caught it one-handed, he broke out of a D-lineman's tackle and still had arm strength to heave it to Cody. Every time Riley gets on the field, it's always a spark to the team."

NEXT UP?: BYU's Armed Forces Bowl opponent is expected to be announced Sunday afternoon, and it's possible that the Cougars will face the Houston Cougars.

Houston was gunning for a spot in the Bowl Championship Series on Saturday, until it fell to Southern Miss, 49-28, in the Conference USA championship game, and ruining the Cougars' perfect season.

It marked the final home game for Houston's star quarterback Case Keenum, who holds numerous career NCAA records, including total offense, yards passing, touchdown throws, and completions.

HOMETOWN BOY MAKES GOOD: Senior wide receiver Spencer Hafoka, a native of Kahuku, Hawaii, took a handoff on an end-around and picked up 18 yards. Toward the end of his run, he hurdled a tackler near the BYU sideline. Hafoka's run touched off a celebration by his teammates.

It marked the first time Hafoka has earned yardage this season for the Cougars.

"Everyone loves Spencer because he's completely devoted and unselfish," Mendenhall said. "He's a senior and hasn't had a significant role. He's a good player and the offensive staff found a way to get him in the game in a featured role. When he had an opportunity, he gave everything he had. I think that's why they reacted like they did."

FLAG BEARERS: Hafoka carried out the team flag Saturday while junior Carter Mees carried out the special teams flag. Former BYU running back Homer Jones (1979-80) carried out the alumni flag.

SANTA SIGHTING: With 6:52 remaining in the third quarter, a man dressed in a Santa Claus suit came out of the stands and ran the length of the field to the cheers and jeers of fans in attendance and disrupting the game.

The man was finally apprehended by security personnel when he ran out of room to run.

Later in the third quarter, another man — wearing nothing but swim trunks — ran across the field, delaying the game yet again.

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Hello, security?

INJURY UPDATE: BYU linebacker Jameson Frazier suffered an ankle injury in the first half.

EXTRA POINTS: Announced attendance was 30,765 … BYU wide receiver JD Falslev set a career-high with 80 receiving yards and tight end Marcus Mathews also set a personal best with 80 yards receiving … Uona Kaveinga forced his fourth fumble of the season, tying him with Scott Johnson (2007-09) for the second-most in a career at BYU since defensive statistics were officially kept by the NCAA.

email: jeffc@desnews.com