Nelson TD passes lead BYU over Washington 23-17 | NevadaAppeal.com
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Nelson TD passes lead BYU over Washington 23-17

DOUG ALDEN
AP Sports Writer

PROVO, Utah (AP) – The two-quarterback system questioned by many before BYU’s season opener is 1-0.

Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps shared the job and combined to lead the Cougars to a 23-17 win over Washington on Saturday, getting some help from the defense with a second-half shutout.

Nelson threw for two touchdowns and he and Heaps both finished with 131 yards passing in front of some of their greatest predecessors. BYU invited its former all-American quarterbacks back for the weekend for a scholarship fundraiser and halftime ceremony.

“You’re part of the fraternity. You’re taking snaps,” Nelson said. “You can’t play bad because those guys didn’t.”

The honorees included Jim McMahon, who ran the alumni flag onto the field before the game, Steve Young and Steve Sarkisian, who is now Washington’s coach.

While it was a celebration of BYU’s quarterback history, the Cougars’ defense kept Washington’s Jake Locker from taking over the game.

Locker, who returned for his senior season, threw incompletions twice on fourth down in BYU territory as the Huskies were driving for what could have been the go-ahead touchdown.

Locker finished 20 of 37 for 266 yards and a touchdown. He also had 11 carries for 10 yards and one rushing touchdown, but was stymied while trying to lead the Huskies to score after they led 17-13 at halftime.

“I think as a football team we played with good effort,” Locker said. “We shot ourselves in the foot and made mistakes that were crucial.”

Locker’s last chance came on fourth-and-6 from the 26, when his pass was tipped by BYU lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna and bounced harmlessly to the ground with 1:51 left.

“Around when he released, I just jumped,” said Manumaleuna, who also blocked a field goal at the end of the 2007 Las Vegas Bowl to preserve a victory over UCLA. “Both times I had no anticipation of blocking anything. I guess it’s all luck.”

Nelson was able to run out the clock in his first start since he was a freshman at Utah State in 2006. He finished 9 of 13 and Heaps, the prized recruit out of suburban Seattle who chose BYU over Washington, was 12 for 21 for 122 yards in his college debut.

“That’s what we practiced all fall camp and we’ve got it worked out. We know it will work and proved it tonight,” Nelson said. “It was close. it came down to the wire but those are the ones you have the most fun in.”

The two alternated series throughout the game. Two of Nelson’s drives started inside Washington territory and he was able to lead touchdowns.

“We were playing the long field and they were playing the short field,” Sarkisian said. “BYU did a good job managing field position. I know that was something they were focused on coming into the game and it really paid dividends for them.”

Nelson converted on third down with a soft pass over the middle to J.J. DiLuigi, who had about 10 yards between him and the nearest Washington player. He scored easily to put the Cougars up 23-17.

Nelson also had a 9-yard TD pass over the middle to Joshua Quezada early in the second quarter that put BYU up 13-7 when Nelson ran in the 2-point conversion.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Huskies went for it on fourth-and-2 from the 23. Locker tried to throw deep but Jermaine Kearse was well covered on the play and couldn’t get to the ball.

Mitch Payne kicked two field goals for the Cougars.

Chris Polk ran for 92 yards on 16 carries for the Huskies, who gave the Cougars two points on a bungled punt with 4:30 left in the first quarter on a snap that was several feet over punter Will Mahan’s head. Mahan ran it down in the end zone and tossed it out the back for a safety, which cut Washington’s lead to 7-2.

Erik Folk kicked a career-best 54-yard field goal at the end of the second quarter to give the Huskies a 17-13 lead.