Boise State Football

Gutsy Broncos dip into bag of tricks to pull off a stunner

Ian Johnson scores the winning two point conversion at University of Phoenix Sadium before the Fiesta Bowl Monday.
Ian Johnson scores the winning two point conversion at University of Phoenix Sadium before the Fiesta Bowl Monday. The Idaho Statesman

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Boise State football team penned its signature win Monday night at sold-out University of Phoenix Stadium.

And just like a signature, it was one of a kind.

You couldn't forge this. Couldn't duplicate it. Couldn't even dream it.

The No. 9 Broncos — the not-so-little team that could — beat the mighty No. 7 Oklahoma Sooners 43-42 and won the Fiesta Bowl.

The Broncos led 28-10. Trailed 35-28 with 16 seconds left. Trailed 42-35 in overtime.

And somehow, in unforgettable fashion, they won.

"Unbelievable. One word," Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky said. "We knew we had a chance, but that's crazy."

The Broncos finished 13-0 — their first perfect season as a four-year school — and will finish in the top 10 for the first time, too.

They added three other firsts — their first win over a Bowl Championship Series-conference team away from Boise, their first win over a ranked BCS team, and their first win over a program considered among the nation's elite.

Oklahoma (11-3) has won seven national titles.

On this night, Boise State was better.

"Cinderella? I don't think so," Zabransky said. "I think it's time to realize Boise State's for real. It's time to put us on that preseason Top 25 every year."

The Broncos built their commanding lead by forcing four Sooners turnovers. They gave it away the same way — with threeturnovers, capped by Marcus Walker's 33-yard interception return for a touchdown with 1 minute, 2 seconds left in the game.

That gave Oklahoma a 35-28 lead. Offensive tackle Ryan Clady spiked his helmet as he left the field, with the Broncos' world crashing on top of them.

"I'm like, ‘Oh no, this might be another Liberty Bowl,' " running back/wide receiver Vinny Perretta said, referring to the Broncos blowing a 13-point lead over Louisville in 2004. "We just hung in there. We didn't quit all year. We weren't going to quit these last few plays."

The Broncos fought back with the kind of plays you just don't see in the Big 12, the Southeastern Conference or the Big Ten.

The kind of plays that make Boise State unique — just like its blue field.

The Broncos tied the game 35-35 on a 50-yard hook-and-lateral with 7 seconds left to force overtime.

They fell behind 42-35 on the first play of overtime — a 25-yard touchdown run by Oklahoma's superstar tailback Adrian Peterson — then won it with a touchdown pass by Perretta and a 2-point conversion by tailback Ian Johnson on the Statue of Liberty play.

Coach Chris Petersen did not hesitate to go for the 2-point conversion. He knew his defense was fading.

"They're so big, strong and physical," Petersen said of the Sooners. "The first overtime (series) didn't go so well. One play, they were in the end zone. We liked the play we had for a 2-point conversion. It really wasn't a difficult decision at that point."

On the 2-point play, called "Statue," Zabransky faked a pass to the right and wrapped the ball behind his back. Johnson took the ball and went left while every Sooner bit on the fake.

Johnson easily beat the defense to the end zone.

"They took a gamble," Walker said, "and they won."

Nearly as surprising as the comeback was the collapse that put the Broncos in that predicament.

The Broncos built a 14-0 lead on a 49-yard touchdown pass from Zabransky to Drisan James and a Johnson TD run set up by defensive end Mike T. Williams' strip of Oklahoma quarterback Paul Thompson.

They pushed in front 21-10 at halftime on James' 32-yard touchdown — he busted a tackle at the 31 — and led 28-10 when safety Marty Tadman returned an interception 27 yards for a touchdown.

Tadman, who was the defensive player of the game, scored with 8:10 left in the third quarter. It was his second interception of the game.

Oklahoma came charging back thanks to a slew of Bronco mistakes.

A punt bounced off blocker Aiona Key's leg and Oklahoma recovered the fumble to set up a touchdown. It was 28-17.

Johnson fumbled to end a promising drive, with the score 28-20.

The defense committed two pass-interference penalties, including one on the 2-point conversion, to allow the Sooners to tie the score 28-28 with 1:26 remaining.

And Zabransky, who had otherwise erased memories of his meltdown last year at Georgia, threw what looked like a game-ending interception on the Broncos' next play. Walker's run-back gave Oklahoma a 35-28 win with 1:02 left.

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

Zabransky, the offensive player of the game, had 54 seconds to lead the Broncos 78 yards.

He scrambled out of trouble and hit senior tight end Derek Schouman for 36 yards to the Oklahoma 42.

A sack pushed the Broncos back to the 50, and Zabransky tossed two straight incompletions.

The Broncos faced fourth-and-18 from the 50. They had time for a couple plays.

They only needed one.

The Broncos went to one of the oldest tricks in the football playbook — one they practice in every day-before-the-game walk-through.

The old hook-and-lateral.

Zabransky tossed a 15-yard pass to James on the left. The Sooners, knowing James was short of the first down, crashed on him.

They didn't see Jerard Rabb sliding across the field from the right. James pitched to Rabb, who dashed into wide-open space down the sideline and dove into the end zone.

The Broncos say they've never run the play better.

"This is what we practice every week, and never get a chance to do," offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said. "And now we're doing it, and I'm thinking, ‘Oh crap, here we go. This is for real.' "

And so are the Broncos.

To offer story ideas or comments, contact reporter Chadd Cripe at or 377-6398.

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