Washington's 20-17 victory over Colorado in Freedom Bowl II before 30,961 at Anaheim Stadium Monday night was an evening of firsts for Orange County's fledgling bowl game.
First Rainless Game: Yep, the sky was clear this time, unlike the conditions for last year's slosh-o-rama between Iowa and Texas.
First Interesting Game: No 55-17 blowout here. Washington won, as expected, but Colorado had two chances at an upset in the game's final five minutes.
First Backup Quarterback To Become a Hero: Washington sophomore Chris Chandler, a season-long caddy to Hugh Millen, was pressed into the starting lineup when Millen developed calcium deposits in his throwing arm. Chandler passed for 141 yards, ran for 72 more and was named Washington's Most Valuable Player of the game.
First Player to Win an MVP Award by Throwing One Pass: That was Colorado's Barry Helton, who normally serves as the Buffaloes' punter and placekick holder. But because of one play--a 31-yard touchdown pass out of a fake field goal formation--Helton was voted team MVP. He expended more energy in carrying away the trophy, a mammoth replica of Anaheim Stadium, than he did in earning it.
First Controversy: Read on.
Colorado was down by three, 20-17, and driving under the shadow of the Washington goalposts with less than six minutes remaining. On second-and-five from the Husky 7, sophomore halfback Mike Marquez burst through the middle of the line for a gain to the 2, good for a first down.
Only Marquez didn't bring the football with him--at least in the eyes of the officials. He either collided first with the turf (Colorado's contention) or with Washington linebacker Joe Kelly (the officials' contention), but either way, the ball squirted loose and was ruled a fumble.
David Rill fell on the ball for the Huskies, and, with 5:01 left, Colorado had been been delivered a crushing blow.
Washington Coach Don James called it "the play of the game. There was no way we were going to stop them, the way they were moving the ball."
Colorado Coach Bill McCartney called for a second opinion.
"Everyone on our sideline thought the kid was down and the ball was dead," McCartney said. "All our coaches upstairs said he was down. The people who saw the TV say they were unsure.
"I'd like to see the films. We were one play away from winning this game. If he doesn't fumble the ball, our chances are great."
Marquez wasn't certain he had fumbled the ball.
"I saw the goal line two yards away and I took one last lunge," he said. "As I was going down, my elbow hit the ground and the ball came loose.
"Was it a fumble? That's not for me to say. I thought the officials should have at least had some discussion about it. I thought the one official who called it right away was out of position."
Not surprisingly, Colorado came out after the game avidly in favor of the use of instant replays by officials on the field.
"I want it retroactive," McCartney said. "My coaches were adamant about it (no fumble on the play), and the officials should be able to take a second look at it an make a decision."
James didn't want to get drawn into any debate.
"Emotions go with whoever puts the ball on the ground," James said. "We had 13 penalties that I wasn't excited about, either. I wasn't sure all of them should've gone against us."
Fumble or not, Washington (7-5) was declared champion of Freedom Bowl II. And Chandler, a quarterback with two collegiate starts to his credit prior to Monday, was a major reason why.
James threw a lot at the sophomore, who basically had to learn an entirely new offense on the spot. During the regular season, Washington ran out of a pro-I set. During the Freedom Bowl, the Huskies used the option, dabbling with great success with such innovations as shovel passes.
Chandler's running proved nearly as valuable as his 15-of-26 passing. His 22-yard keeper in the first quarter set up the Huskies' first points, a 30-yard field goal by Jeff Jaeger.
Chandler also had a 15-yard gain en route to Washington's second touchdown, a one-yard plunge by Tony Covington in the third quarter.
The Huskies scored their other points on a 3-yard run by David Toy in the second period and an 18-yard field goal by Jaeger in the fourth.
Colorado (7-5) entered the game a four-point underdog, but led once, 7-3, on Anthony Weatherspoon's one-yard run, and was tied at 10-10 in the third quarter. This despite virtually no assistance from the forward pass.
Buffalo sophomore Mark Hatcher is a stereotypical wishbone quarterback--good run, no pass. For the game, Hatcher completed 1 of 8 attempts for 13 yards.
And, at least on this night, Hatcher looked no better than the third-best passer on the Colorado roster.
Wide receiver Loy Anderson threw a perfect strike to Marquez on an option pass in the fourth quarter--only to have Marquez, wide open at the Washington 5, drop the ball.
Unrattled, the Buffaloes came back two downs later with another trick play. Kneeling down to hold for an apparent 48-yard field goal attempt, Helton took the snap, hopped up and circled right before stopping an lofting an arc to tight end Jon Embree in the end zone.
Of such plays are team MVPs made. The media, stunned by such a rarity as a Colorado touchdown pass, immediately voted the award to Helton.
But it wouldn't be enough for the Buffaloes. Trying to move the football by more accustomed means, they fumbled it on the Washington 2 in the waning minutes.
Or maybe they didn't.