GLENDALE, Ariz. — What a way to prove them all wrong.
The country had questions. And Boise State University had the ultimate answer.
With a series of had-to-see-it-to-believe-it plays, the Broncos shocked the University of Oklahoma Sooners in overtime 43-42 in Monday's Fiesta Bowl.
They did it with one of the most spectacular endings imaginable.
Late in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma scored twice quickly, first tying Boise State with a 2-point conversion, then taking the lead by picking off otherwise-stellar quarterback Jared Zabransky for a 33-yard interception return.
Left tackle Ryan Clady threw his helmet to the ground. The Boise fans who had stood with the team for the entire game were stunned.
Then, with the clock ticking, Zabransky led a long drive and hit Jerard Rabb for a 35-yard equalizer, tying the game 35-35.
Star Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson scored on the Sooners' first play in overtime.
Boise State answered with a trick pass play — Vinny Perretta hitting Derek Schouman for the touchdown. Trailing 42-41, coach Chris Petersen decided to go for two with another trick play. Zabransky faked a pass while handing off behind his back to Ian Johnson, who danced into the end zone for the win.
What a finish.
"We won the Fiesta Bowl!" former BSU student Heidi Sears shouted. It was all she could say.
"It's the comeback of the century," said Amanda Rine, who traveled from Nampa for the game.
Clady celebrated on the field with his teammates, proof that they had conquered the green, as well as the blue.
"It feels like a dream," he said. "It feels like a dream."
As the team celebrated, Johnson capped the fairy-tale evening by proposing marriage on national TV to his girlfriend, Chrissy Popadics, senior captain of the Bronco cheerleading squad. She said yes.
As Petersen accepted the trophy, Boise State President Bob Kustra snuck around to the front of the podium with his own camera.
"I just decided I wanted to save these for posterity," he said.
He said Petersen's gutsy calls at the end and Zabransky's MVP performance made the game — and the game is helping make the university.
"We've got that slogan — the ‘New U' — and I think that we've proven tonight that we are the New U."
His voice was cracking as he got back to the hotel where the team and many of the fans were staying.
"Sleep?" he said. "We're going to go party."
It's a party well earned.
The Broncos started the game the same way that Bronco fans swept into Arizona. Two touchdowns in the first seven minutes. Defense that forced a fumble and kept the Sooners off the board until the late seconds of the first quarter.
Bronco Nation had already taken over Tempe and Scottsdale — blue and orange everywhere. The fans joined the football team in the conquest of Glendale, home of University of Phoenix Stadium.
A sell-out crowd of 73,719 people filled the dome, and Bronco blue and orange was split evenly with Sooner crimson and cream.
Boise State officials hoped around 20,000 people would make the trip, but it looked like even more fans were wearing the colors.
At halftime, Bronco Nation was loud and rambunctious.
Brand-new Gov. Butch Otter (Monday was his first day) shook hands and slapped backs. "This is great," he said, his thumb up.
Fans clambered around Boise State alum Alex Guerrero, who stood for cell phone pictures with fans who remembered his time on the Blue Turf.
Even potato magnate J.R. Simplot was here, bundled up under a light blanket at the 50-yard line, three days from his 98th birthday.
The game was just the end of a party that had lasted for days.
An older Sooner (crimson shirt, OU hat, Sooner pins) grabbed a BSU fan by the shoulder and leaned in with a smile. "If fan turnout wins games," he said, "you're going to whip our ..." The sentence continued, of course. And so did the win.
Contact Gregory Hahn at 377-6425or firstname.lastname@example.org.