Fresno's big dreams still alive

The Fresno BeeSeptember 21, 2013 

FRESNO — Enjoy this, Bulldogs fans. Savor it. Order an extra side of bacon with breakfast.

Fresno State finally slayed the dragon.

You didn't think it would be easy, did you? You didn't think Boise State would go down without a heckuva fight?

The Broncos gave them one, erasing a 15-point second-half deficit with three touchdowns in less than 9minutes to grab a late 40-34 lead. But Fresno State showed its own brand of resiliency on a 13-play, 86-yard drive for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:14 left.

Yet nothing was settled until Jonathan Norton, a senior defensive back not even listed on Fresno State's two-deep chart, knocked away a final pass intended for tight end Kirby Moore on fourth down.

With the sellout crowd of 41,031 going berserk, Derek Carr took a knee, sprinted toward the Bulldogs sideline and leapt into the arms of a jubilant coach.

Fresno State 41, Boise State 40. What a game. The Bulldogs' lofty dreams are still alive.

Fresno State put on a good show for ESPN's cameras. The stands were nearly packed and fans were screaming their tonsils out.

The Bulldogs defense really seemed to play off the crowd. Players were swarming to the football and flying around with frenzied intensity we haven't seen in years.

But Boise State doesn't win 11 games every year because their players get intimidated in hostile environments. Far from it.

Most impressive was Joe Southwick's cool composure. The Broncos quarterback never flinched against the rush and kept calmly delivering the ball.

And if not for Norton's blanket coverage on that huge fourth down, we're probably looking at a last-second field goal, because Moore had the first-down yardage.

The teams spent the first three quarters trading punches like Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns. Each time Fresno State grabbed the steering wheel one way, the Broncos pulled the other.

When the Bulldogs converted a third-and-long, Boise State converted a third-and-long. When the Bulldogs completed a deep pass to an uncovered receiver, Boise State completed a deep pass to an uncovered receiver.

And when the Broncos held Fresno State to a field goal on a promising drive, the Bulldogs returned the favor.

A leaping interception along the sideline by Fresno State safety Derron Smith had the look of a momentum-changing play. But it was only temporary.

Carr quickly led Fresno State down the field, firing completions to Modesto Christian High grad Isaiah Burse and Adams before hitting Josh Harper on a slant for a 4-yard touchdown.

Harper's score put the Bulldogs ahead 24-16, but you just knew Boise State would have an answer in the final 2:28 of the half.

Southwick, back in the game after suffering a shoulder injury, methodically led the Broncos to the Fresno State 8. But on third down, two Bulldogs sandwiched him in the backfield and forced a field goal.

Fresno State scored the first 10 points of the third quarter, taking advantage of a key fumble by Broncos tailback Jay Ajari inside the red zone.

But when the Bulldogs had to settle for a field goal following a 15-yard penalty for chop blocking, Boise State needed just 17 seconds (a long kickoff return and a 35-yard touchdown run) to pull within 34-26.

The Broncos weren't done, either. They seized control by scoring 21 straight points between the third and fourth quarters.

But just when it looked like Fresno State's misery in this lopsided series would continue, the Bulldogs came up with a drive that will be remembered for years.

Friday morning at the gym I ran into Rodney Wright and Jason Stewart, two of my favorite players from the Bulldogs teams I covered in the early 2000s. Both went on to long careers in the Arena Football League and are still active.

I asked the gregarious nose tackle J-Stew whether a win against Boise State later that evening would help make up for those painful losses in 2001 and '02. Stewart scrunched his nose and shook his head: Heck no.

OK, so maybe one win doesn't settle the score. But it sure beats the alternative.COMMENT

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