Fresno State’s game-winning play that made history in Boise
That was for for Kendall Edwards. That was for Tom Brandstater. That was for Pat Hill, Ben Jacobs and Richard Helepiko as well as every Fresno State football player, coach and devotee who has experienced both heartbreak and humiliation at the hands of Boise State.
When Ronnie Rivers took the option pitch from Marcus McMaryion (a gutty call on third-and-goal from the 1) and scampered into the end zone for the winning touchdown in overtime, you could feel 18 years worth of frustration give way like snow sloughing from an overloaded tree branch.
Fresno State 19, Boise State 16. The Snowdogs … err, Bulldogs … are Mountain West Conference champions. And they did it on the infamous blue turf, temporarily turned white by a blizzard that dumped snow and rain during most of Saturday night’s game.
The Boise Jinx is junked. No longer just a house of horrors, Albertsons Stadium will be remembered as a place where Bulldogs hold trophy celebrations and do postgame snow angels.
“I was really proud of our kids tonight,” second-year coach Jeff Tedford said. “They never gave in and at the end found a way to win. Hard, tough conditions, noisy stadium, hostile environment, the whole bit. But our players were not going to be denied.”
When was the last time a Fresno State victory on the football field felt so satisfying? You can make an argument for “never.”
Since they became conference rivals, each of the Bulldogs’ three previous wins over Boise State took place at Bulldog Stadium. (They were 0-10 on the blue turf.) None of those games had more than regular-season stakes, though the one in 2005 – the only time Hill got the better of the Broncos – felt pretty satisfying when it happened.
Fresno State’s last MW championship, in 2013 under Tim DeRuyter, came against Utah State. Nothing against the Aggies, but it’s not the same as beating the Broncos on their home field. The title before that, in 2012, was a three-way tie.
Under Hill, the Bulldogs won bowl games against a ranked Virginia team in 2004 (in Boise, ironically), UCLA in 2003 and Georgia Tech in 2002. They also beat Colorado, Oregon State, Wisconsin, Washington, Kansas State and UCLA during nonconference.
But did any of those wins produce as much joy when compared to what Fresno State and the Red Wave felt after Rivers high-stepped into the end zone?
I’m thinking not.
To find such a satisfying victory, you may have to go back to the 1992 Freedom Bowl triumph over USC, one of the crown jewels of the Jim Sweeney Era. Before that, Fresno State played in the Big West, PCAA and the California Collegiate Athletic Association. Great teams, players and wins – too many to list – but not big-time college football.
The point is that what Fresno State accomplished Saturday night deserves the adjectives of “historic” and “landmark.” It won’t soon be forgotten. The opponent, weather and drama make the memory indelible.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of the college overtime rule. Too much back and forth and empty statistics. Still, I have to admit there’s nothing more dramatic than when a game ends on the final play, as when Rivers crossed the goal line.
At that moment, the entire San Joaquin Valley broke into a happy dance.
That wasn’t the only game-altering play. Without Matt Boateng’s blocked extra point, coming after Boise State scored the tying touchdown with 8:01 left, the game probably doesn’t get to overtime.
What about those two Asa Fuller field goals, a 44-yarder in the second quarter and a 38-yarder in the third, both into a driving snowstorm? The redshirt freshman was inconsistent this season. Fans and media fretted what would happen if the Bulldogs needed to make a big kick in a clutch moment.
But when that moment arrived, and conditions were at their worst, Fuller, long snapper Jacob Westberry and holder Blake Cusick rose to the occasion.
Let’s take a moment to extol Fresno State’s defense, the unit that carried the Bulldogs all season. What a revelation Mykal Walker has been, and in the season’s biggest game the defensive end racked up 11 total tackles, two for losses, along with a sack and fumble recovery to take home the defensive MVP trophy.
Jeffrey Allison could’ve won it, too. The middle linebacker was all over the field with 12 stops. Even though Boise State tailback Alexander Mattison rushed for 200 yards, Allison and safety Mike Bell made sure Mattison felt every one.
The only thing that went wrong for the Bulldogs was something beyond their control. Had Memphis held on to a 17-point halftime lead against UCF, Fresno State would’ve been playing in the Fiesta Bowl against LSU on New Year’s Day instead of the Las Vegas Bowl against 7-5 Arizona State on Dec. 15.
But a program (and fan base) that went from 1-11 to 11-2 and the MW championship in two years need not get greedy. Instead, just revel in how good it felt to finally beat Boise State on the blue turf with conference supremacy on the line.
Holiday cheer arrived four weeks early.