Today was a big day for the Colorado State Rams football team and 1st year head coach Steve Fairchild. For starters, the #17 Cougars from Brigham Young University came to Ft. Collins as heavy favorites over the Rams. Second, CSU alumnus Joey Porter was in the house to be honored for a generous donation which he made to the CSU athletic program four years ago. It was the first time since then that he had been able to attend a CSU football game in Ft. Collins, CO, as the Miami Dolphins take on the Denver Broncos in Denver tomorrow. This turned out to be huge as the game went along, as it actually had a direct impact on the game.
BYU is obviously a tough task for any team in the Mountain West Conference, as they were expected to contend for a BCS bid before a loss to Texas Christian University a couple of weeks ago. At 4:00 p.m. in front of 25,000-plus at Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium, the Cougars kicked the ball deep to Michael Myers of the Rams. The Rams were picked to finish near the bottom of the MWC, but have been a pleasant surprise this year, getting out to a 4-4 (2-2) start this season under Steve Fairchild's watch after finishing last season at 3-9 overall under legendary coach Sonny Lubick. Surprisingly, the Rams controlled the play for much of the day, getting it going when defensive back Elijah Blue Smith recovered a Max Hall fumble and walked into the endzone early in the first quarter to give the Rams a 7-0 lead. After BYU scored late in the second quarter, the score at halftime was tied 21-21.
The first half had been played virtually penalty-free in this game. However, that changed in the second half. Think back to early in the season when BYU was playing a game, I believe against Washington, if memory serves. Washington scored late in the game to make it 21-20, but the player that scored threw the ball behind him and received a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct, moving the PAT back, and it was blocked by BYU, preserving the victory. While that is the rule, it seemed to underscore the notion that the NCAA wants BYU to play in the BCS badly. That's just a little foreshadowing for the second half.
In the second half, there were 4 pass interference penalties called on the Rams' defensive backs. Only one was a legitimate call where the back had actually pulled down the receiver in order to prevent a big play. Three of the calls came on 3rd-and-long. Two of them were in the endzone, and quite obviously should have been called on the offensive players for pushing off. Generally, when a defensive back is all over the receiver and falls backward, it is because of the offensive player pushing off. Nonetheless, these calls went against the Rams throughout the second half, but it was still 28-24 CSU going to the 4th quarter.
Fast forward to the middle of the 4th. BYU has gone ahead 31-28, but CSU linebacker Ricky Brewer recovered a fumble on the BYU 30 yard line, and the Rams now have it 2nd-and-goal at the 7. Gartrell Johnson takes the handoff and walks into the endzone, giving the Rams a 34-31 lead with 7:20 to go. Joey Porter was standing behind the south endzone, came onto the chalk to give Johnson a high-five, and the backjudge throws a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct (sound familiar?). Jason Smith makes the PAT, though, and the Rams have the lead. However, the Cougars score with 4:00 to go, then stop the Rams. While they are trying to protect a 38-35 lead, Max Hall throws an interception from his own 40 that is returned for a touchdown. Wait a minute... chop block on the Rams, so instead of a 42-38 lead, they have the ball on the 40 with just under 2 minutes remaining. The next play, Billy Farris throws a touchdown on a skinny post to wideout Dion Morton, though, and the Rams have the lead 42-38 with 1:44 remaining. The defense had obviously been brutal all day, though, and BYU marches right down and scores with 22 seconds to go. CSU's return game had been setting the team up near the 50-yard line all day, and they had 2 timeouts left. Coach Steve Fairchild is talking to an official, and another official throws a flag on Fairchild for unsportsmanlike conduct. Now BYU can easily boom the kick through the endzone, and they won the game 45-42.
I do look at the world through CSU green and gold glasses, so I'm obviously going to be bitter after the loss, but this was terrible. I just wonder if the NCAA is trying to make it this obvious that they want BYU in the BCS. The officiating was brutal in this one, and the Rams still should have won the game. It ultimately came down to the defense not being able to hold. However, it didn't help that every time that they appeared to have BYU stopped, in came a flag for pass interference. It was awful. It was a great game, though, and a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I just hope that this doesn't happen to BYU's next opponents.