Eight of the 34 bowl game winners-or approximately 25 percent-earned their victories by 3 or less points, and none won in more exciting fashion than Idaho-and that includes two double overtime winners (Wyoming and Central Michigan) and two single overtime winners (Arkansas and Auburn).
Coach Robb Akey of the Idaho Vandals will get the fans eternal nod of approval for choosing to go for a 2-point conversion and the win, rather than send the game into overtime with an extra point attempt and 4 seconds remaining on the clock. Junior quarterback Nathan Enderle found sophomore wide receiver Preston Davis in the back of the end zone to give Idaho the 43-42 dramatic victory over Bowling Green in the Humanitarian Bowl.
Bowling Green thought it had the game in the bag. Trailing 28-14 midway through the 3rd quarter, the Falcons scored 28 points, including two touchdowns in the final 4 minutes, taking a 42-35 lead on a 51-pass from Tyler Sheehan to Freddie Barnes with 32 seconds left.
But the Vandals were not fazed as Enderle found Davis (the same winning 2-point conversion combination) on a 50-yard completion to Bowling Green’s 16-yard line. With 8 seconds left, Enderle found senior wide receiver Max Komar, who caught a low throw sliding across the goal line to set up the winning conversion.
Here’s the real kicker: Komar, the Vandals leading receiver, had been dropping balls like hot potatoes all game, and his catch to the put Idaho in a position to win was his first of the day.
On the other side of the ball, Falcon receiver Freddie Barnes was making NCAA history while hauling in 17 passes from Sheehan for 219 yards and 3 touchdowns. The 17 catches gave Barnes 155 for the season, breaking the record for most receptions in a season-a record that was previously held by two famous names, Nate Burleson of Nevada (138 receptions in 2002) and Howard Twilley of Tulsa (134 receptions in 1965).
Idaho’s Enderle went 15-of-28 for 240 yards and 4 touchdowns. Bowling Green’s Sheehan went 33-of-47 for 387 yards and 4 touchdowns.
But the real story of Idaho’s victory was coach Robb Akey, who labored 19 years as an assistant college football coach before taking over an Idaho program had was dead meat and had 3 coaches in 3 years before Akey arrived. He went 1-11 and 2-10 in his first two seasons, but it would be a misnomer to say Idaho was crazy to keep him on with only 3 victories in 2 years.
Akey was busy getting rid of the dead meat on the team that did not want to work, play serious football, and win. The result was this year’s team. The Vandals were picked to be at the bottom of the Western Athletic Conference this season, but started the year at 6-1 and finished at 8-5 with their Humanitarian Bowl victory.
The news from Moscow (ID), if you have not already heard, is that the Vandals are no longer a doormat waiting to be walked on. Give Akey some well-deserved props; he created the environment and provided the leadership at the top to make it happen.
Perhaps the second most exciting, close game victory this bowl season belonged to the Wyoming Cowboys, who trailed by 11 points in the 4th quarter to storm back and beat Fresno State, 35-28 in double overtime at the New Mexico Bowl.
And Wyoming did it with a freshman quarterback and a superb, goal-line defensive stand against the leading rusher in the nation, Fresno State’s Ryan Matthews. First-year coach Dave Christensen could not have been happier or more proud of his players.
Matthews averaged 151 yards per game and did not disappoint his fans, racking up 144 yards on 31 carries while scoring 2 touchdowns. Unfortunately, he fumbled midway in the final quarter when Cowboy lineman Mitch Unrien stripped the ball. Wyoming capitalized on the miscue when freshman QB Austyn Carta-Samuels engineered a 19-play drive that brought Wyoming within 3 points, 28-25.
A 37-yard field goal by Cowboy Ian Watts with 20 seconds left tied it at 28-all. Neither team scored in the first overtime, but Carta-Samuels found David Leonard on a 13-yard pass in the second OT to go up, 35-28.
Then the Wyoming defensive line staged a magnificent goal-line rally to stop Ryan Matthews, the nation’s leading rusher, 3 times at the 1-yard line, and also stopped QB Ryan Colburn on a QB sneak at the 1 to shut the door on Fresno State. It was all in a day’s work for the Cowboys, who have won 4 games this season with 4th-quarter rallies.
Wyoming’s Austyn Carta-Samuels went 17-of-31 for 201 yards and 3 touchdown passes. He was chosen the game’s MVP, and was also selected as the Mountain West’s Freshman of the Year. The Cowboys, who were picked to finish last in their conference, ended the year at 7-6. Fresno State was 8-5.