ALBUQUERQUE –– One dream.
That’s how the season began for the CSU Rams –– with one slogan the team came up with during its fall camp in order to bring the entire town of Fort Collins together with the team to achieve one dream.
They wanted to go to and win a bowl game.
In a matter of three minutes in which fans who traveled across state lines witnessed a game-tying touchdown drive, a two-point conversion, two fumbles, and one last second field goal, that dream came true for the Rams and 15 seniors who had never before played in a bowl game, let alone experienced a winning season.
On Saturday against the Washington State Cougars in the 2013 Gildan New Mexico Bowl, the Rams pulled off an improbable win to rally from 15 points down and defeat the Cougars by a final score of 48-45.
“That win right there –– it’s pretty amazing how it worked,” said CSU head coach Jim McElwain. “It’s about being resilient. It’s about understanding every play has a history and a life of its own, and I think that was the epitome of it for our guys to figure out a way to get it done and finish, I thought that really speaks volumes for how far our program has come.”
While running back Kapri Bibbs received the bulk of the carries for the Rams, it was running back Donnell Alexander who completed the two-point conversion on a Statue of Liberty play from quarterback Garrett Grayson to tie the game at 45 with 33 seconds left in regulation.
“On our walk-throughs every Friday and then perfect Thursday we practice it a couple times, and it works for the most part and it worked out today,” Grayson, who finished the game 31-of-50 for 369 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, said of practicing the Statue of Liberty play.
The play calls for the quarterback to act as if he will throw the ball but instead hands it off behind his back to the running back.
The two-point conversion was at first ruled unsuccessful, but a second look by the officials showed Alexander hitting the pylon to overturn the call.
CSU linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who on Dec. 10 was named Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year, was also named Defensive Player of the Game for his two forced fumbles at the end (one that was overturned after it was determined that Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday was down before the ball came out), the second of which gave the ball back to the Rams, allowing kicker Jared Roberts to complete the comeback with a 41-yard field goal.
“To watch that — what (Barrett) did — was crazy because he works on it every day in practice, just trying to strip somebody. And you just saw how he did it two plays in a row,” said Joey Porter, a former CSU linebacker and now an undergraduate assistant coach with the Rams. “I’m speechless.”
But it almost didn’t happen at all.
The first half was a messy one by the Rams, and one in which the CSU defense gave up five touchdowns to five different receivers and 35 points to their Pac-12 opponent.
The Rams, uncharacteristically, looked like they lacked focus and discipline as the Cougars jumped out to a quick 14-point lead after a fumble by CSU receiver Rashard Higgins led to WSU’s first touchdown of the game. Minutes later, the Cougars blocked a CSU punt and added their second score after WSU quarterback Connor Halliday hit receiver Gabe Marks in the end zone with 11:17 to go in the first quarter.
The Rams cut the Cougars lead to seven on a 63-yard Grayson bomb to receiver Charles Lovett. When it looked like the Rams were going to stop a WSU drive after safety Jake Schlager sacked Halliday, the Cougars instead added to their lead after the sack was negated by a celebration flag on defensive end Eli Edwards and Halliday threw for his third touchdown of the game to give the Cougars a 21-7 lead.
The CSU secondary struggled to stop Halliday, a quarterback who averages 59 pass attempts per game, something the Rams were aware of before Saturday and still looked unprepared for. Halliday finished the game 37-of-58 with six touchdowns, one interception and 410 yards.
He was named the offensive player of the game.
“That’s great and everything, but games are won at the end,” Halliday said. “We didn’t play well enough at the end.”
On the sidelines
During the game, CSU defensive line coach Greg Lupfer was seen on camera to have appeared to exchange profanities with Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday.
After the game, Lupfer submitted an apology through CSU’s football Twitter account.
“I am truly sorry for what I said,” read the statement. “It was wrong and those words do not represent who I am and what I believe in. I apologize for the embarrassment I caused for Colorado State University, this team and my family.”
After the game, head coach Jim McElwain was asked if he was made aware of the comments made by Lupfer.
“I heard something about it but honestly I don’t know anything until I’ve looked at it,” McElwain said. “We’ll definitely handle it in a quick manor.”
CSU Athletic Director Jack Graham agreed.
“We will take a complete and thorough dive around it. If it is what it appears to have been, it’s not who we are, it’s not who Colorado State University is. It’s unacceptable behavior and we will deal with it appropriately.”
Football Beat Reporter Katie O’Keefe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.