Top 50 Stories: 2007 -- Boise State has a Fiesta for the ages

ccripe@idahostatesman.comJuly 6, 2014 

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Twitter was an unknown upstart on Jan. 1, 2007 - the night the Boise State football team, lovable tailback Ian Johnson and a previously anonymous cheerleader became national media sensations.

The Broncos stunned mighty Oklahoma 43-42 in overtime in the Fiesta Bowl in a game so memorable and improbable that it still gets mentioned regularly on the now-ubiquitous social media site.

"Oklahoma vs Boise State, still hurts after all these years! #GutWrenchingFutbol," @AdamHess11 tweeted to @ESPNCFB late last month, in response to a question about heartbreaking losses.

At first, it looked as if the Broncos' hearts would be breaking that night in Glendale, Ariz.

BSU, a 6 1/2-point underdog in the highest-profile game in school history, outplayed Oklahoma and future NFL star Adrian Peterson for nearly three quarters to build a 28-10 lead.

But two major gaffes - an Oklahoma punt hit blocker Aiona Key for a turnover and Johnson fumbled while fighting for extra yards - allowed the Sooners to tie the score at 28-28 with 1:26 left.

Moments later, quarterback Jared Zabransky threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Oklahoma 35, Boise State 28. Heartbreak.

Zabransky, a senior, had thrown interceptions on the Broncos' last offensive plays in the 2004 Liberty Bowl (a desperation heave against Louisville) and the 2005 MPC Computers Bowl (a throw that spoiled an otherwise fantastic comeback against Boston College).

Thinking the worst, some fans even left University of Phoenix Stadium in disgust - certain the Broncos were doomed.

What happened next did more than decide the outcome of a football game - it changed lives.

The ensuing events won two ESPY awards (best game, best play), earned coach Chris Petersen the Bear Bryant National Coach of the Year award, and inspired a book ("Blue Magic," by Chadd Cripe and Brian Murphy of the Idaho Statesman) and a documentary ("Out of the Blue," directed by Michael Hoffman). They also produced a frenzy of community pride that hasn't been matched since. The victory parade Downtown drew more than 20,000 fans on a chilly January day.

The game's thrilling finish also turned Johnson and cheerleader Chrissy Popadics, who became his fiancée during a postgame proposal on the sideline, into national celebrities who appeared on "Good Morning America."

The unforgettable series of events:

• On fourth-and-18 from midfield, the Broncos called "Circus" - their end-of-game, hook-and-lateral play. Zabransky threw a 15-yard pass to wide receiver Drisan James, who pitched to wide receiver Jerard Rabb, who zipped down the left sideline and dove into the end zone with 7 seconds left.

• Oklahoma took a 42-35 lead on its overtime possession. Boise State answered with more trickery. On fourth-and-2 at the 5-yard line, Zabransky motioned wide left and wide receiver Vinny Perretta took the snap from center. Perretta ran to the right, mimicking a run play that was popular that year, but instead flipped a strike to tight end Derek Schouman for the TD.

• Instead of kicking the extra point and playing another overtime, Petersen called for a two-point conversion. The play: "Statue." Three receivers hustled wide right, drawing the Sooners' attention. Zabransky took the snap, and faked a quick throw to the right with his right hand while slipping the ball behind his back with his left. Johnson took the ball from Zabransky and strolled into the end zone around dominant blocks by Schouman and left tackle Ryan Clady.

• Johnson, who'd been plotting a way to propose, dropped to a knee on the sideline. Popadics said yes.

"It might go down in college football as the best game - ever," Zabransky said afterward.

The Broncos won another Fiesta Bowl, won more games and finished higher in the polls in 2009. They reached No. 2 in the nation and flirted with the Rose Bowl in 2010. They were in the national championship race in 2011.

But none of those seasons produced the pure joy of the 2006 regular season and 2007 Fiesta Bowl - the season that Boise State football reached heights rarely even imagined before.

Oklahoma was the first team from a power conference that Boise State had beaten outside of Bronco Stadium. Since then, the Broncos have beaten Oregon (2008-09), Virginia Tech (2010), Oregon State (2010), Georgia (2011), Arizona State (2011) and Washington (2012) - and only two of those games were at home.

The confidence that created those wins stemmed from one wild night in the Arizona desert.

"This should prove to everyone that we belong with all the big boys, no matter who it is," senior center Jadon Dailey said after the game. "Bring 'em on."

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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