An Underdog in Name Only

January 2, 2007

It had to be the most improbable conclusion to a game in Bowl history. Its hard to imagine any higher drama than what played out in the closing minutes of the Fiesta Bowl last night. The Boise State Broncos – undefeated, but utterly disrespected – against one of college football’s most storied programs, the University of Oklahoma Sooners, winners of the Big 12 title game with its best player, Adrian Peterson finally back from injury. On paper it played out as David versus Goliath. To most of the commentators leading up to the game it was a decided mismatch. But on the field it was a completely different story.

Let’s start from the beginning. From the first few minutes of the game it was clear that “tiny” Boise State a former junior college, was the equal of seven-time national champion Oklahoma if not more so. A 14 – 0 Boise State lead eventually grew to 28 to 10 by midway into the third quarter. The Broncos were led by their tough under-rated defense, a poised senior quarterback, Jared Zabransky and a slick hardnosed running back named Ian Johnson.

Soon though Oklahoma with its historic pedigree and host of talented players elbowed its way back into the game, led by redeemed senior quarterback Paul Thompson. The Sooners staged a remarkable comeback and looked to just about everyone that although it took four hard quarters, that they were finally asserting dominance over a plucky but overmatched team. With just over a minute to play Oklahoma took what looked to be a game deciding lead when cornerback Marcus Walker intercepted Zabransky’s errant pass and ran 33 yards for a Sooner touchdown. But no the game wasn’t over.

Even as the clocked ticked down, Boise State collected itself to gain a couple of key first downs in a march to tie the score. With less than 20 seconds left – 4th down and 18 – the Broncos went into the trick bag. A pass from Zabransky to Drisan James and a shockingly beautiful hook and lateral sprint by Jerard Rabb to the endzone took our breath away. The extra point kick tied it up. Now it was time for college football’s version of overtime.

Oklahoma got the ball first. In college overtimes each team gets the ball 25 yards from the goal line. On the first play Oklahoma’s Peterson scoots through Boise State’s defense almost untouched for a touchdown. Now it was Boise State’s turn. And Oklahoma made them work for it. With fourth down and two from the five yard line another trick play; with quarterback Zabransky going one way and receiver Vinny Parretta getting the ball – lofting it into the endzone to Derek Schouman for the touchdown. The question for Boise State was do they go for a tie and kick it which would lead to another overtime exchange or do they go for two and win the game outright? Well, they did what Hollywood would script and went for two. Not just going for two but doing it in the trickiest, most old-school way possible – a statue of liberty play – with Jared Zabransky faking a pass to his right and handing off behind his back for Ian Johnson to sprint in to the left for the two points and a win for the ages.

The wacky, historically dramatic and unbelievable finish to the game nearly obscures the fact that this was a real, hard fought game, between two very good teams. This was absolutely not a mismatch. It was never a mismatch. Not at all. Thanks to the conclusion it was simply one of the most satisfyingly delicious college football games ever played. Period.

It should be a lesson to us all that we should shut up and just let the kids play the game. Then watch and enjoy it. Damn our prognostications. Damn our ridiculous assumptions. Both teams on this night could have played with any college team in America. And for certain Boise State was an underdog in name only.

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