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They feel like champs even without the title

January 03, 2007|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — Monday night's Fiesta Bowl was as good as it gets for underdogs like Boise State, an imperfect college football system and any sandlot kid who ever drew up a trick play.

Seldom has a major event in sports ended up this way ...

Billy, you go deep, run around the fire hydrant, and I'll hit you between there and the ice cream truck.

Boise State's 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., was the kind of thriller with the kind of buzz that spilled into the next day.

It was a victory for big dreamers and have-nots.

Oklahoma has won seven national titles in football. Boise State was a junior college until 1968.

"It shows that the gap is decreasing fast," Boise State running back Ian Johnson said about the gulf between the top teams and those not considered among the elite.

The Fiesta Bowl was supposed to be a nice prelude to next Monday night's Bowl Championship Series title game between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Florida in the same stadium.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday January 06, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 17 words Type of Material: Correction
College football: Recent articles about Boise State misspelled the last name of Coach Chris Petersen as Peterson.

Instead, the first Fiesta stole the spotlight, at least for a day, of the "big" game.

"I hate to say this, I fell asleep and my wife kept hitting me," Florida Coach Urban Meyer said after arriving in Arizona on Tuesday. "She said it was the greatest football game she ever saw."

Shelley Meyer was not alone.

It was a game that ignited fuses on both ends of college football's ongoing argument.

Major-college football, unlike other intercollegiate sports, has never had a playoff at the end of the season to determine a national champion. In its place, the Bowl Championship Series format ranks teams during the season according to polls and computer rankings, and at the end of the season the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the BCS standings play for the title.

Critics of that system say the only way to legitimately pick a champion is through an elimination tournament after the regular season with the top two surviving teams advancing to a championship game.

If you are a playoff advocate, you are wondering why 13-0 Boise State is not advancing out of Monday's semifinal game to play the Ohio State-Florida winner in next week's BCS title game.

"As far as I am concerned, that was the national title game," said Karl Benson, the Western Athletic Conference commissioner who, for years, fought for increased access for schools outside college football's six-conference sphere of power. "Boise State woke up this morning feeling as champions. I am as proud of them as if they would have won next Monday night."

Benson is a Boise State graduate.

If you are against a playoff system, you are wondering why Boise State would want to risk this great stage exit to play an Ohio State or Florida team that might beat you by three touchdowns.

But politics aside, simply consider the sheer, unbridled joy and insanity of what transpired on a giant pallet of real grass that was wheeled into a stadium on thousands of tiny rollers.

You might think Oklahoma, proud purveyors of pigskins, must have been caught off guard by play-calling that reminded some of that Marx Brothers' movie "Horse Feathers."

But that wouldn't be fair to Sooners Coach Bob Stoops, who has pulled his fair share of fake punts and trick plays on unsuspecting opponents.

But three gadget plays, in the final minutes?

"We had to pull out every trick in the bag," Boise State Coach Chris Peterson said later.

Act (One) of Desperation:

* It was fourth and 18 at the 50-yard line, in the final minute, Boise State was trailing by seven points after blowing an 18-point, third-quarter lead.

Boise State pulled out the "hook and ladder," a staple of schoolyard football gadgetry.

Quarterback Jared Zabransky passed to receiver Drisan James running across the field. James was short of the first-down line but flipped the ball to teammate Jerard Rabb, who raced 35 yards the other direction for the tying touchdown.

"We practice it all the time," Bryan Harsin, Boise State offensive coordinator, said after the game. "It never works. Ever."

It did this time.

The nerve of that call.

Zabransky had just thrown an interception-for-touchdown that gave Oklahoma the lead with 1:02 left.

"After I threw that interception, I had probably 10 guys come up to me and say, 'There's a minute left, you can do it.' You know, we did it," Zabransky said.

But that only sent the game to overtime.

Act Two:

* On Oklahoma's first play in overtime, Adrian Peterson ripped off a 25-yard touchdown run, and the extra point put the Sooners up by seven.

Boise State added another strange wrinkle on its possession. On fourth and two at the Oklahoma five, Vinny Perretta, a former walk-on wide receiver, lined up at quarterback instead of Zabransky.

Perretta rolled right and then flipped a touchdown pass to Derek Schouman to make it Oklahoma 42, Boise State 41.

Act Three:

* The Statue of Liberty? That's the oldest play in the schoolyard book. And now Boise State is going to use it on the biggest play in school history?

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