BYU football: Nelson shines in final home game
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Provo • Quarterback Riley Nelson is the emotional leader of the BYU football team, and has been since he stepped off the bench last year to lead the Cougars to that 27-24 come-from-behind win over Utah State.

Heading into his final home appearance as BYU's starting quarterback at LaVell Edwards Stadium, however, Nelson worked hard to keep his own emotions in check.

After the 52-13 win over Idaho, Nelson said he was able to do that, noting that he mostly forgot it was his final game in the stadium until family members made him pose for pictures with his jersey still on.

Nelson completed 19 of 31 passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns. All three of his TD passes went to his favorite receiver, Cody Hoffman.

At the postgame news conference, Nelson thanked the loyal fans who stayed to the bitter end.

"I'm grateful for their support," he said.

So Nelson finished with a 7-1 record as BYU's starter at home, having started in wins against Washington in 2010, against San Jose State, Idaho State and Idaho in 2011 and against Washington State, Idaho and Weber State this year. Nelson's only loss as a starter at home came last month to Oregon State, 42-24.

Pressed for some of his favorite memories at home, Nelson said the Utah State win in 2011 probably stands out, although he didn't start in that game. He replaced a struggling Jake Heaps, and ended up winning the starting job the next week.

"Last year against Utah State was a good one," Nelson said. "The home opener against Washington State was fun this year. I got in my first game here in 2009. The season-opener in 2010 [a win over Washington] was fun. I didn't play in it, but the 2009 win over Utah was memorable, too."

Nelson said it was difficult to "stop and smell the roses" on Senior Night because the Cougars have three games left: at San Jose State next week, at New Mexico State on Nov. 24, and the bowl game.

"It is really hard to think of it as the end. We've still got almost a fourth of our season left, so we can't think of this as the end," he said earlier in the week. "It is just another game and we have to go out and execute, just like always."

Generally, Nelson has played well at home. It is on the road where he has struggled this season, playing poorly in losses at Utah and Boise State and so-so in the 17-14 loss at Notre Dame.

But coach Bronco Mendenhall has continued to back the senior. Mendenhall said Nelson shined in the 41-17 win over Georgia Tech two weeks ago, after throwing an early interception that was returned for a touchdown.

"I think just balance and consistency [has improved]," Mendenhall said. "Being able to run the football and throw it, with fewer turnovers, is really helpful. I think that's really the core of what has happened, with balance and consistency, and fewer turnovers."

drew@sltrib.com

Twitter: @drewjay