SAN DIEGO - In his first chance to lead a game-winning drive at Boise State, Kellen Moore's first pass sailed over the head of his intended target and into the arms of a defender.
No one, however, believes that interception in the final minutes of the Broncos' 17-16 loss to TCU in Tuesday's Poinsettia Bowl will be anything more than a footnote in the freshman quarterback's legacy by the time he is done at Boise State.
"That kid is probably the best quarterback I've ever been around. He is so smart. Without him, we wouldn't have been in this bowl game at all," senior wide receiver Vinny Perretta said. " Kellen led this team, led this offense and is a big reason why we got to where we are."
The first freshman quarterback to start a season opener in BSU history, Moore earned WAC Freshman of the Year honors, set a school record for completion percentage and guided the Broncos to a 12-0 regular season.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
What will stick with Moore, at least for a while, is his next-to-last pass of the year. The Broncos, trailing 17-16, got the ball on their own 17 with 1 minute, 53 seconds and one timeout remaining. Time for Boise State to write another chapter in its history book. Time for Moore to pen the perfect ending to his perfect first season.
Instead, under pressure, Moore lofted a ball for Julian Hawkins. Hawkins cut his route a little shorter than Moore thought, and the left-hander's pass sailed right to TCU safety Stephen Hodge.
The Broncos got the ball back with 6 seconds remaining, but an attempt to pull off a miracle ended when Jeremy Childs' lateral was picked off.
"This is Boise State. We're going to be in barnburners. We're going to be in comebacks, magical moments. This team will always be in something like that and this was Kellen's first taste of it," senior tailback Ian Johnson said after the game.
"He's definitely got some magic left. He's just a young guy. He could be the next Heisman Trophy candidate."
Johnson finished eighth in the 2006 Heisman voting.
If this year is any indication, Moore could eventually do much better - even if he wasn't in the mood to discuss the future after the Poinsettia Bowl loss. Moore completed 22-of-35 passes for 222 yards in the loss. He had one interception and was sacked twice by the nation's No. 2 defense.
"Later on you'll realize we had some pretty neat moments this year. It's tough to send the seniors out this way with their final game as Broncos," Moore said. "The longer it lingers on, the more you look at the bright spots of the season."
There were plenty, including the victory at Oregon, for which Moore was named the Walter Camp national offensive player of the week. Moore flashed his skill and toughness in that game. He completed a key third-down pass to Childs while taking a shot from an Oregon player. More than by his records and statistics, he earned the respect of his teammates throughout the season with his football smarts, his savvy and, especially, his toughness.
Next year figures to be even better for Moore and the rest of the offense. Boise State returns three of its top four running backs, its top two wide receivers (plus deep threat Titus Young) and most of its offensive line.
Coach Chris Petersen is already talking about expanding Moore's role by allowing him to call some plays. The Broncos already have a lot of faith in him. Moore completed more passes in a single season than anyone but Taylor Tharp and attempted more than anyone but Ryan Dinwiddie and Tharp.
One interception isn't going to rattle that faith, especially since Moore - a coach's son and video room fiend - is unlikely to make the same mistake again.
"He was one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and he was just a freshman. You see how hard he worked and his toughness. You never see the guy get frustrated at any point in the game. Even when he throws a pick, he's waiting for us to get back on the field if we can," wide receiver Austin Pettis said. "(The Poinsettia Bowl is) something you have to learn from, and he will definitely.''