For Marshall, a mishandled extra-point snap symbolized a hard-luck ending. For Colorado State, it was an onside kick.
The Rams were playing Boise State at their new stadium, and they were trying to end a two-game losing streak and stay alive the Mountain West Conference’s Mountain Division standings. That, and the Rams had never beaten the Broncos.
CSU jumped to a 28-3 lead and led 35-17 at halftime. In the fourth quarter, Wyatt Bryan kicked a 19-yard field goal and Rashaad Boddie scored on a 4-yard run to finish a short-field drive, giving the Rams a 52-38 lead.
Boise quarterback Brett Rypien led a 75-yard TD drive to pull the Broncos to within 52-45, but there was only 1:41 left. An onside kick was necessary.
Kicker Joel Velazquez drove the ball into the ground, and it hopped about halfway to the sidelines. Miraculously for the Broncos, the third bounce went high over the Rams’ “hands team,” and receiver Cedrick Wilson leaped and caught it as if he had beaten a cornerback on a long pass.
The Broncos were back in business at the CSU 45. They scored the tying touchdown and won in overtime 59-52.
You could almost hear third-year Colorado State coach Mike Bobo cringing during a phone interview this week.
“It was tough. It was tough because we had a tough loss the week before at Wyoming,” he said. “I was proud of the guys, how they came back and fought, put us in position to have a chance to win that game in the fourth quarter. I was just disappointed we didn’t finish.”
The Rams righted themselves the next week, beating San Jose State 42-14 to finish 7-5. And now it’s on to the New Mexico Bowl to face Marshall, a 7-5 team that finished on a 1-4 funk punctuated by that extra-point failure against Southern Mississippi.
Game time is 4:30 p.m. Eastern on Dec. 16 at Dreamstyle Stadium in Albuquerque.
The 1-3 finish aside, these are pretty good times for CSU, which is going to a bowl game for the its fifth consecutive season. The university opened its new 41,200-seat stadium with a 58-27 hammering of Oregon State, and the Rams sold a record 15,000-plus season tickets. The average announced gate was 32,062, second only to San Diego State in the MWC.
Bobo, the former Georgia quarterback and offensive coordinator, succeeded Jim McElwain, who took the Florida job after the 2014 regular season. The team is starting to take on Bobo’s character, and it can stack up the yardage quickly — to the tune of a 501.0 per game, tops in the Mountain West and 10th in major-college football.
In fact, the Rams need only 241 total yards against Marshall, give or take, to break the school record of 480.9.
The Rams can beat you by ground (211.1 yards rushing per game) and air (289.92 yards passing per game), and the big, big name is receiver Michael Gallup. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound native of Monroe, Georgia, is third in the FBS in receptions (94) and fifth in yardage (1,345, 112.08 per game). He was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, which was handed out Thursday night.
Four other Rams joined Gallup on the All-MWC team: quarterback Nick Stevens and linemen Jake Bennett and Zack Golditch on the first team, and running back Dalyn Dawkins on the second.
Bennett and Golditch helped Dawkins run for 1,349 yards, and have kept Stevens upright — the eight sacks allowed for the season is tied for second in the land with Marshall and Appalachian State. The Rams also are tied for second in third-down conversions (50.6 percent) and seventh in tackles for loss allowed (3.92 per game).
Stevens leads the Mountain West in passing yards, TDs (27) and efficiency rating (152.4). Not Baker Mayfield numbers, but the fifth-year senior from Murrieta, California, does have seven 300-yard games this season.
“He does a great job of seeing the field. He’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever coached,” Bobo said. “Michael Gallup, he’s improved. We’ve had him two years; he’s a junior college kid. He’s got raw strength and ability, really, to do what he wants on the football field.
“When he catches the ball, he is a hard guy to tackle, and he’s a hard guy to defend downfield, and those two have worked well together this year.”
Offensive coordinator Will Friend is reportedly heading to Tennessee after the bowl game to join the staff of new coach Jeremy Pruitt.
Colorado State’s defense has been leaky at times, as the Rams are yielding 27.5 points and 425.8 total yards per game. They have taken some body blows, giving up 41 to Alabama, 42 to Nevada (in a win), 45 to Air Force and those 52 points in regulation to Boise State. The Rams are 90th in total defense and 112th of 129 FBS teams in giving up third-down conversions, 44.8 percent.
Marty English, the defensive coordinator, is retiring after the bowl game after six seasons in Fort Collins.
“Marshall’s a team that’s always been very, very good offensively,” Bobo said. “They spread you out and do some things, the [run-pass options]. We need to line up, play assignment football and play hard.
“Hopefully, we can create some turnovers, which you need in bowl games, and we’ve got to expect the unexpected.”