Senior Writer

Boise-Nevada game proves fine line between choke and clutch


RENO, Nev. -- There's a fine line between choke and clutch.

Boise's Kyle Brotzman had missed three field goals all season. He missed two within minutes of each other Friday against No. 19 Nevada. Either one could have beaten the Wolf Pack.

There's a fine line between choke and clutch.

Kellen Moore's 53-yard Hail Mary to Titus Young to the Nevada 9 with two seconds left set up one of those field goals.

There's a fine line between choke and clutch.

Nevada did its part by rallying from a 24-7 halftime deficit only to give up that Hail Mary.

There's a fine line between choke and clutch.

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Nevada's Anthony Martinez finally defined that line with a 34-yard field goal in overtime to give the Wolf Pack a 34-31 win that ended Boise's unbeaten season. The day that started with Auburn's stirring comeback against Alabama ended with Nevada's identical comeback from 17 down that reshuffles the BCS yet again. TCU, with a tap in Saturday at New Mexico, can get to the Rose Bowl -- at least. If Oregon and/or Auburn lose next week the Horned Frogs will be in line for a national championship bid.

But that's for Saturday and beyond. Boise State showed it was vulnerable blowing that 17-point lead after 11 victories this season it won by an average of 36.4 points. Even with all of Nevada's desire, Boise still had that chance to keep the season alive. Nevada had tied the game with 13 seconds left when record-setting quarterback Colin Kaepernick hit Rishard Matthews with a touchdown pass. But on the next possession, Moore heaved a Hail Mary into the bitter cold night that Young somehow caught inside the Nevada 10.

That set up Brotzman, who used to have a phobia for kicks from the left hash. This was straight on as time expired and barely missed wide right from 26 yards. Boise got the first possession overtime and had to settle for another straight-on kick, this one from 29 yards. This time Brotzman missed wide left.

The stunned Broncos had to know it was over then. Nevada had bullied them through the second half and overtime, running 59 plays to Boise's 26 and outrushing the Broncos 239-8. Kaepernick calmly maneuvered the Wolf Pack into position for the game winner.

"It's heartbreaking, it's sad," said Broncos running back Doug Martin who rushed for 152 yards and two touchdowns.

Boise coach Chris Petersen's poker face didn't crack. This is the closet the program, only 15 years in I-A, had come to cracking the BCS championship code. It had played in two BCS bowls but with a victory would most likely have played in the Rose Bowl (at least) and still had a shot at a national championship.

"One play can win a game but one play can't lose it," Petersen said. "There's a lot of plays to be made that we didn't make for whatever reason."

Kyle Brotzman can't escape the sobering reality of missing not one but two huge field goals for Boise St. (AP)  
Kyle Brotzman can't escape the sobering reality of missing not one but two huge field goals for Boise St. (AP)  
In the end, it was the biggest night in Reno since the invention of Keno. Nevada, a team that hadn't been ranked since the 1940s until this season, beat a team that was gunning for its third BCS bowl since 2006. David, you might say, slayed David. Fans rushed the field to celebrate what will most likely be a shared WAC title. That's why the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl was here. The enormity of the game was also why the Fiesta Bowl wasn't here. The bowl that is hosting the national championship game was told it couldn't be guaranteed a spot in the press box.

For a weekend, Nevada football is likely to get unprecedented national exposure. Kaepernick became the first player in I-A history to pass for 2,000 and rush for 1,000 three consecutive seasons. Kaepernick combined with teammate Vai Taua to surpass Craig James and Eric Dickerson of SMU for most yards gained by two players in a career.

"This whole team played with a chip on its shoulder," said Nevada coach Chris Ault, in his third stint as the Wolf Pack's coach. "All year, all you hear after Boise beats Virginia Tech and Oregon State is, 'They're going to the Rose Bowl, the BCS. People say, 'Do you use that?' You don't have to use it. That's fact." ... We kept hearing how great their defense is. As I told our players at our practice this morning, they haven't seen an offense like this."

This is how close it was: With the game tied 31-31, it wasn't clear whether Brotzman's potential game-winning kick at the end of regulation even missed. It was ruled wide left but Boise fans were celebrating.

This is how close it was: For the first time since Labor Day, Boise State was tied this late in the game.

This is how profane it was: When Martin took a screen pass 79 yards for a touchdown to break a 24-24 tie with 4:53 left a four-letter bomb could be heard from the Nevada coaches' box.

It rhymed with luck.

For the first time this season, Boise State needed all of it and couldn't get it. The loss ended a nation-leading 24-game winning streak that extended back to the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl.

Where was Ohio State president Gordon Gee to throw out the first insult? Gee, who flamed all things non-BCS this week, basically got his way Friday when the supposed "good guys" (Oregon and Auburn) won and Boise lost. With a week left in the regular season, TCU is a big fan of Oregon State and South Carolina. Unless the Beavers upset No. 1 Oregon and/or South Carolina does the same to No. 2 Auburn in the SEC championship game, the season-long dialogue will die with the Horned Frogs on the outside looking in.

The outside, in this case, being defined as a Rose Bowl bid. That's the "consolation" prize for TCU if it finishes undefeated and can't get to the championship game.

The argument has gone beyond merely letting the unwashed into BCS bowls, it's the reality of them actually playing for a championship. Imagine the doors that could open. We'd be talking about something close to equality. That's what has Gee, and legion of followers, so nervous. Let's translate Gee the proper way: Only the Pac-10, Big Ten and SEC teams deserve to play for the national championship.

Gee is right about one thing. It is an exclusive club. Only 12 schools (out of 120 in I-A) have played in the BCS title game. Only 10 have won it. Five of those are from the SEC.

The difference is that Auburn can still lose next week in the SEC championship game and still have a chance to remain in the top two. That's the kind of juice that comes with playing in the nation's most powerful league. TCU will make its final statement against 1-10 New Mexico.

But whether it choked or not, Boise is finished.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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