BOISE, Idaho (AP) As his offense trotted back on the field, that fleeting voice of consciousness popped into Robb Akey’s head.
Was this the right move for Idaho? Why not play for overtime, instead of risking everything on a 2-point conversion with 4 seconds left?
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“It jumps into the back of your head. Unfortunately it just does,” Akey said. “I could hear the ‘dumb’ comment and some of those other things.”
No one is going to question the Vandals’ coach now. Not after the gold and black celebration on the famed blue turf of Idaho’s rival, capping a finish that’ll be hard to match by any other bowl game this postseason.
Max Komar cradled a sliding 16-yard touchdown catch with 4 seconds left and Nathan Enderle found Preston Davis alone in the back of the end zone for the 2-point conversion, lifting the Vandals to a dramatic 43-42 victory over Bowling Green in Wednesday night’s Humanitarian Bowl.
The score capped a wild final four minutes where Bowling Green scored twice to take then lead, then watched Idaho go 66 yards in 28 seconds to pull off the win – and by the same score rival Boise State beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl three years ago.
The Falcons took a 42-35 lead with 32 seconds left on a 51-yard pass from Tyler Sheehan to Freddie Barnes, who slipped behind the Idaho secondary for his 17th catch of the game and No. 155 in his record-setting season.
But Idaho answered with a 50-yard heave from Enderle to Davis that got the ball to the Bowling Green 16. After an incompletion with 8 seconds left, Enderle found Komar – the Vandals’ leading receiver who dropped a number of passes – sliding across the goal line to snag the low throw.
It was Komar’s only catch of the game.
“Nate (Enderle) had faith in me. If I was him, I would’ve stopped throwing to me, making him look bad with the ball bouncing off my chest,” Komar said. “But I’m glad he stuck with me.”
Akey decided before the Vandals even took possession that if they scored he’d go for two. Just to make sure, he called timeout after the touchdown to confirm with his offensive coaches the play called would work.
That’s when the slightest bit of doubt arrived too.
“It was there when I sent them out on the field and it was too late to send the kicker out there,” Akey joked.
He didn’t need to worry. With most of the 26,729 in attendance roaring their approval, Enderle had plenty of time to connect with Davis near the back line, setting off a wild, premature celebration. One overly joyous fan ran on the field to the Idaho bench, only to get shoved down by one of the Vandal players.
Idaho (8-5) was penalized but Trey Farquhar’s kickoff bounced inside the Bowling Green 5 and the fans finally got to celebrate for real when Jahmal Brown was tackled at the 22.
“To see everyone run out on that field was a great feeling,” Idaho safety Shiloh Keo said. “The Vandal community hasn’t seen a season like this in over a decade.”
Some thought they never would after the Vandals cycled through three coaches in three years and Akey spent much of his first two seasons shoveling out players not interested in his intense, folksy style. The Vandals had just three wins in two years, but turned it around in 2009 starting out 6-1 and now closing the year with just the second bowl victory in school history.
Those hopes of capping the season with a win seemed finished when Barnes struck again in his banner senior season. Needing just five receptions to set an NCAA Bowl Subdivision record, Barnes finished with 17 grabs for 219 yards and three touchdowns, the final one putting Bowling Green in prime position for its fifth victory in its last six postseason trips.
But Komar gave the Vandals decent field position with a solid kickoff return and Enderle’s long throw landed in the arms of Davis, who finished with four catches for 119 yards and a 30-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter. Komar then made his sliding grab and Akey confidently went for 2.
Meanwhile, the Falcons were left to figure out how this one slipped away. They trailed 28-14 midway through the third quarter, only to stage a furious rally with 28 of the next 35 points and two touchdowns in the final four minutes.
Willie Geter’s 2-yard plunge with 3:51 left tied it at 35.
Idaho drove to the Falcons 40, but had to punt and Bowling Green took over with 1:49 left. Facing third-and-11 at their own 49, Barnes got lost in Idaho’s zone coverage and ran free down the sideline for the score.
“They made one more play than we did. They are a good football team and played hard to the end,” Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said. “When a team has 60 or 70 yards to go, you should win the game. But credit them to get the ball down the field and into the end zone and then convert on the 2-point conversion attempt. Their coach showed a lot of courage going for it and it paid off for them.”
De’Maundray Woolridge carried Idaho with 22 carries for 126 yards and two third-quarter touchdowns. Enderle was 15 of 28 for 240 and four touchdowns after starting the game 1 of 6.
Sheehan was 33 of 47 for 387 yards and four TDs for Bowling Green (7-6). But it was the 14th consecutive bowl loss for the Mid-American Conference.
“We were excited they were going for two. We thought we had the opportunity to win it again,” Bowling Green defensive end Angelo Magone said. “Obviously we didn’t.”