San Jose State was in control Saturday. The Spartans led Fresno State by 10 points and had a first down inside their own 10-yard line just 1:32 before halftime.
But instead of running out the clock -- and taking a wave of momentum into the locker room -- SJSU played as it had all season: It attacked.
This time, the move backfired. The Spartans ran six plays in 52 seconds, gained 10 yards and sent out the punt team. Michael Carr dropped the snap, and Fresno State took over at the 7. The Bulldogs reached the end zone in one play.
Thirty minutes later, the Spartans (6-7, 4-4 Western Athletic Conference) walked off the field for the final time this season. With a spot in the Silicon Valley Football Classic at stake, the Bulldogs rallied to beat SJSU 19-16 before an announced crowd of 14,134 at Spartan Stadium.
Fresno State (7-5, 5-2) tied the score on Asen Asparuhov's 32-yard field goal with 10:06 to play and went ahead on Asparuhov's 27-yard field goal nearly four minutes later.
Asked why he didn't play it conservatively at the end of the half, SJSU Coach Fitz Hill said: ``That's not the way we played this year, and I didn't want to change the mentality. We've been punting in the red zone all year, so I'm not going to second-guess myself on that one.''
Hill also won't second-guess his decision to run the ball on fourth-and-one from the 50 with his team leading 16-13 early in the fourth quarter. Damarcus Ingram lost 3 yards on the play.
The Bulldogs then drove 33 yards for the tying field goal.
``I wanted to keep it in the attack mode, and I thought we could get it,'' Hill said. ``I talked to the defense, and they said, `Hey, let's go for it.' If we had not been holding them, I probably wouldn't have gone for it.''
Although those two decisions didn't work out, the Spartans had a chance to reach their first bowl game since 1990 when defensive end Philip Perry stripped the ball from Adam Jennings, and linebacker Paul Okumu recovered on the SJSU 46 with 4:52 to play.
When quarterback Scott Rislov -- who was sacked seven times and pressured on many more occasions -- connected with Jamall Broussard for 17 yards to the 32 on third down, SJSU seemed on the move. But the Spartans were penalized for an illegal man downfield, moving the ball back to the SJSU 46.
Ultimately, it came down to fourth-and-13 from the 43 with 2 1/2 minutes left. Rislov dropped back to pass and sensed the pressure. He avoided one rusher, scrambled up in the pocket and unleashed another pass to Broussard.
Streaking into the open field with a defender trailing a few steps behind, the ball hit Broussard -- SJSU's leading receiver -- in stride.
Had he caught it, SJSU might have been the team celebrating in the middle of the field, accepting the invitation to the Dec. 31 bowl at Spartan Stadium.
But Broussard didn't catch it.
Soon, a season that included 23,617 miles of travel, nine road games and a stunning victory over defending Big Ten champion Illinois was over.
Of Broussard's drop, Perry said: ``Your heart sinks when you see something like that. You see the whole play happening, the ball in the air, and you envision everything going on. When he had it in his hands, you start to jump. Then you the see the ball drop, and everything just drops to the pit of your stomach.''
It was an emotional locker room in the aftermath of SJSU's ninth consecutive loss to Fresno State, its biggest rival, since 1990. The Spartans had spoken of having a winning season and reaching a bowl since training camp.
Saturday, they were headed in that direction. They had the ball for 20:30 in the first half, held Fresno State to 303 total yards and built a 10-point cushion. But it wasn't enough to prevent Fresno State from making its third consecutive appearance in the three-year-old San Jose bowl game, where the Bulldogs will probably face either Washington or Oregon from the Pacific-10 Conference.
Rislov, a junior, finished 18 of 33 for 154 yards and a touchdown. He threw one interception, which set up the winning field goal.
``There were three big plays -- our dropped punt, my interception and the last drive, that last ball,'' Rislov said.