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January 1, 2007

Boise State empties the playbook

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GLENDALE, Ariz. Boise State proved it belonged in the BCS and started another lively college football debate.

The ninth-ranked Broncos completed a perfect season with an exhilarating 43-42 overtime victory over No. 7 Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl Monday night, leaving Boise State and top-ranked Ohio State as the only teams with perfect records.

The Buckeyes will play No. 2 Florida for the BCS national championship on the same field Jan. 8, but the Broncos (13-0) believe they belong in that game.

And why not? Boise State showed plenty of heart and resilience in edging the Sooners (11-3) in one of the more amazing games in recent memory.

"We went 13-0 and beat everyone on our schedule," said quarterback Jared Zabransky, selected the offensive MVP after completing 19 of 29 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns. "We deserve a chance at the national title."

The Sooners endorse the Broncos.

"They should be up there playing for a national championship - 12-0, finish the season 13-0 - and hopefully they get some more looks in the future," linebacker Zach Latimer said. "At least a chance. That's all you ask for is a chance. You never know what can happen."

If the Fiesta Bowl was any indication, it would certainly be fun to watch.

In one of the most dramatic finishes in BCS history, the Sooners and the Broncos combined for 22 points in the final 86 seconds of regulation.

Boise State blew an 18-point lead midway through the third quarter, then twice rallied from seven-point deficits.

"Yeah, another day at the office, huh?" said Boise State coach Chris Petersen, who remains undefeated as a head coach.

The Broncos appeared to be finished when Oklahoma cornerback Marcus Walker intercepted Zabransky's pass and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown to put the Sooners ahead 35-28 with 1:02 remaining.

"It would have been easy to give up on us with a minute left, but we had a lot of magic left," Zabransky said.

The magic came on a stunning 50-yard touchdown play on fourth-and-18 in the final seconds of regulation. Zabransky hit Drisan James at Oklahoma's 35, and James pitched the ball to Jerard Rabb, who raced into the end zone with 7 seconds to play.

Zabransky said the Broncos practice that play almost every day in practice but that it rarely works against the Boise State defense, which usually knows when it's coming.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said the Sooners were looking for a trick play. But he said the Broncos ran this one to perfection.

"I want to give them credit because I thought they executed it in a really good way," Stoops said. "It's just the circumstances, the way it happened. They hit it perfect."

That play merely set the stage for more Broncos magic.

Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson opened the overtime with a 25-yard touchdown run. It may have been the final college play for Peterson, who ran for 77 yards and two touchdowns in his first game since breaking his left collarbone Oct. 14.

The Broncos answered with Vinny Perretta's fourth-down touchdown pass to Derek Schouman. With Boise State down by a point, Petersen decided to go for the victory.

On the decisive play, Zabransky looked at three wide receivers to his right, then handed the ball behind his back to tailback Ian Johnson, who raced untouched into the end zone.

"We were trying to get to it earlier, to tell you the truth," Petersen said. "We needed a play like that to get it over with."

Moments after Johnson ended the game, he asked his girlfriend, Broncos cheerleader Chrissy Popadics, to marry him.

"There was no better time," Johnson said.

Johnson carried 23 times for 101 yards and a touchdown, and Drisan James caught three passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns.

Oklahoma's Paul Thompson threw a career-high three interceptions. He completed 19 of 32 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns.

The wild finish came after Boise State dominated the first 40 minutes, making it clear that the Western Athletic Conference champion deserved a BCS berth.

Oklahoma didn't go quietly. The Sooners spotted the Broncos an 18-point lead midway through the third quarter, then rallied to take a 35-28 lead on Walker's interception.

That came one play after the Sooners tied it at 28. They Sooners cut it to 28-26 on a 5-yard pass from Thompson to Quentin Chaney with 1:26 to play. After penalties on their first two 2-point conversion tries, the Sooners converted when Thompson hit Juaquin Iglesias.

Thompson completed five passes for 59 yards on the tying drive and also ran for 8 yards.

The Broncos stunned the Sooners with two quick touchdowns to take a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter.

The first came on a 49-yard touchdown pass from Zabransky to James, a Phoenix product. Zabransky froze the defense with a play-fake to Johnson, then fired to James, who was all alone 10 yards behind cornerback Walker.

On the next series, defensive end Mike T. Williams sacked Thompson, who fumbled. Williams recovered at Oklahoma's 9.

Two plays later, Johnson scored from 2 yards out to give the Broncos a 14-0 lead with 7:28 left in the first quarter.

The Sooners cut the lead to 14-10 before Zabransky and James connected again shortly before the half. But the best was yet to come.

"It could be argued as the best game ever," Zabransky said.

And it could be argued that Boise State was in the wrong BCS game.

"I think we went out and proved the nation wrong," said Boise State safety Marty Tadman, who had two interceptions, one of which he returned 27 yards for a touchdown. "I'm tired of people doubting us."

For more coverage of Oklahoma, visit SoonerScoop.com; for more on Boise State, visit BroncoBlue.com.



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