Thursday, December 31, 2009.
It was 43-42, with an all-or-nothing two-point conversion. The winning team had to go 66 yards in 26 seconds to pull it off. Idaho’s win over Bowling Green in the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl yesterday wasn’t on a big stage like the 2007 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, nor will it hold that everlasting place in college football lore, nor did it have that fairytale postscript. But for those wearing silver and gold and black in Bronco Stadium yesterday, who cares? The excitement was close enough, and it put a capper on a classic turnaround season for the Vandals. They finish 8-5, and man did they give the WAC a sorely-needed lift—the conference’s first bowl win of the year.
When Rece Davis introduced the highlights of the H-Bowl on ESPN last night, he exclaimed, “High drama. No defense, but high drama.” He also called the game’s ending the signature moment of the bowl season so far. The first three quarters it wasn’t so much each team making plays as it was the defenses not making them. That changed in the fourth quarter, at least for the Idaho offense. In that desperate final half-minute, Preston Davis tracked down Nate Enderle’s 50-yard pass at the Bowling Green 16. Then senior Max Komar, who had a case of the dropsies earlier in the game and hadn’t yet caught a pass, made a sliding catch over the goal line to pull the Vandals within one. Then the gutsy two-point conversion call, and the Falcons lost Davis in the back of the end zone.
The 26,726 fans there can say they saw college football history. Bowling Green’s Freddie Barnes broke the NCAA single-season receptions record with just under two minutes left in the first quarter. It was Barnes’ fifth catch of the game and 143rd of the season, and he was just gettin’ started. Barnes ended up with 17 catches for 219 yards and three touchdowns, with all three numbers breaking H-Bowl records. The receptions were the fourth-most in the history of bowl games. And the last one was poised to go down as one of the Falcons’ all-timers, as Barnes pulled in a 51-yard rainbow from Tyler Sheehan to give Bowling Green a 42-35 lead with 32 seconds left. But it was not to be.
Let’s assume Austin Pettis is not playing Monday night. And that the Boise State running game is at least tamed by the nation’s No.1 defense. Will Kellen Moore be asked to win the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl? Not literally, but figuratively? The guy is just a sophomore. He’s never been on a stage like the one awaiting him Monday (although he was in the stands at the 2007 Fiesta, telling his dad the Statue of Liberty was coming). Moore and offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin have been mad scientists game-planning for TCU. It helps that they saw this opponent in person 12 months ago. Kellen has thrown only 14 interceptions in his career, so he remembers every one of them—especially the one that went to the Horned Frogs late in last year’s Poinsettia Bowl. Things like that seem to motivate him. Actually, the loss more than anything else.
With or without Pettis, the key for Moore will be keeping his white jersey clean. Moore will have to avoid TCU’s pressure, most notoriously from All-America defensive end and Ted Hendricks Award winner Jerry Hughes. Kellen will attempt to get away from Hughes and crew with his distinctive scoot-style scrambling—and there’s a story behind that, in case you haven’t heard it. Moore’s Achilles tendons were too short when he was born, causing him to walk on his tiptoes as a toddler because his heels wouldn’t extend to the ground. Kellen had surgery when he was six, and his unique running form developed from there. It’s going to be “scoot city” for Moore in Glendale next Monday.
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox calls Moore a “football nerd.” I’m reminded of a Seattle Times story about Kellen being named Washington Player of the Year in 2006. "It's what he does every day when he comes home," said dad Tom of his son's tape study sessions. "On any given day, we have 30 or 40 college games TiVoed." Craig Beverlin, Tom Moore's longtime friend and Kellen's godfather (and a football coach for over 35 years), said at the time, "The kid just loves football. In terms of strategy and X's and O's, I would put him up against a lot of college coaches. He's as sharp as I've seen at that age." Again, “that age” was Kellen Moore at 17. Most people in the football world outside of Prosser have since come to agree with those assessments. But you know what? Moore is at his best when the popcorn’s poppin’.
There was speculation last week that Baltimore may go after former Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister to fill the void left by injured standout rookie Lardarius Webb. But the Ravens haven’t gone that route yet and may not have to. Former Boise State star Chris Carr got his first Baltimore start last Sunday in a 23-20 loss at Pittsburgh and led the Ravens with nine tackles, half a sack, a pass breakup and a forced fumble. Carr also had two punt returns for 24 yards. Baltimore can still earn a spot in the NFL Playoffs with a win Sunday in Oakland over the Raiders, with whom Carr spent his first three pro seasons.
The Idaho Steelheads may be unbeaten in nine tries against Stockton this season, but they’ll be facing a Thunder netminder who has caught fire when the two teams open a three-game series tonight in Qwest Arena. Bryan Pitton is the ECHL Goaltender of the Week after making 41 saves in a 3-1 win at Bakersfield last Saturday that ended a 10-game winning streak by the Condors. Pitton is 4-1 in his last five games. Meanwhile, Steelheads coach Derek Laxdal has both of his goalies available. Rejean Beauchemin finally got some rest when Richard Bachman returned in time for Tuesday’s Midnight Special in Las Vegas, a 3-1 loss to the Wranglers. Also, four Steelheads rookies have been named to represent the National Conference in the ECHL All-Star Game next month: Bachman, Brendan Milnamow, Evan Barlow and John Swanson.
Boise State opens its WAC basketball schedule tomorrow night, facing a Jekyll-and-Hyde team at Fresno State. The Bulldogs have gone 7-7 in non-conference action, with losses to Seattle and Santa Clara. But they fell by only three to BYU and are coming off a 23-point win over Colorado State. There’s one very concerning comparison for the Broncos. Fresno State romped over San Diego 69-37, while Boise State lost to the Toreros 59-56. The Broncos are 9-4 but are still seeking a defining victory.
It’ll be interesting to see how Idaho Stampede coach Bob MacKinnon molds his pieces-parts together this weekend. The Stampede go to Reno tonight with former St. Mary’s star Patty Mills, anxious to get back in his groove after being injured in a Portland summer league practice in July. Mills was assigned to the Stampede Tuesday by the Blazers. The Stamps also have Anthony Tolliver back. Tolliver got to get back on an NBA bench with a callup to Portland two weeks ago, but the bench is generally where he stayed. He played just two minutes and pulled down one rebound. Tolliver has averaged 20½ points and 10 rebounds in his seven games with Idaho.
This Day In Sports…December 31, 2004, five years ago today:
In the highest-profile game to date in Boise State history, the Broncos are seriously outgained by high-powered Louisville but still have a chance to knock off the Cardinals on the final play of the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. A Jared Zabransky Hail-Mary was picked off in the endzone to ensure Louisville’s 44-40 victory in a matchup of two Top 10 teams. The game had been billed as the second-best of the entire bowl season; and it did not disappoint. For BSU, it was the end of an amazing 22-game winning streak that produced the Broncos’ highest national ranking ever.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 1350 KTIK/The Ticket. He also handles color commentary on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football.)