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Posted on Sun, Nov. 14, 2004

SJSU almost famous




Mercury News

San Jose State didn't play this hard to be satisfied with a moral victory. The Spartans -- 33-point underdogs to 14th-ranked Boise State on Saturday -- came so close to one of the year's biggest upsets, they could taste it.

In the end, SJSU pushed undefeated Boise State to the brink before falling 56-49 in double overtime at Spartan Stadium.

``When it's real close and you're playing a ranked team and it's on national television and we're not expected to win, it hurts. It hurts a lot,'' quarterback Dale Rogers said. ``We just didn't want to keep it close and get respect. We were definitely out there to win.''

Boise State extended the nation's longest winning streak to 20.

In a game that began at 9 a.m. to accommodate ESPN2, San Jose State was inches away. With the score 42-42, the Spartans marched to the Boise State 13-yard line with 1:07 remaining. A 30-yard field goal would have given them the lead. But Jeff Carr's attempt was tipped by Broncos cornerback Gerald Alexander.

``Our kicker has been almost perfect,'' said SJSU Coach Fitz Hill, whose team slipped to 2-7 overall and 1-5 in the Western Athletic Conference. ``Sometimes, I just don't know. It seems like that's the flow we're going with, because the kids are trying hard. They're doing their very best.''

After the two teams exchanged touchdowns in the first overtime, Boise State (9-0, 6-0) struck first in the second with a touchdown. That put the pressure on a young offense that has been inconsistent in the red zone.

The Spartans gained 20 yards to the Boise State 5, but on fourth down, quarterback Adam Tafralis couldn't find a receiver. He was tackled for no gain. Game over.

Noticeably absent on the final play was receiver Rufus Skillern, who had caught 10 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown. Hill said wanted a tight formation with two tight ends in hopes of avoiding a sack and creating a numbers mismatch.

One play ended the game, but many defined it. Over the course of four-plus hours, San Jose State went the distance with one of the nation's top teams.

``I think our kids represented themselves well on national TV,'' Hill said. ``They showed a lot of soul. This season has been one that is strengthening our soul.''

The Spartans took the opening kickoff 94 yards in six plays for a touchdown, capped by Rogers' 69-yard pass to running back Tyson Thompson. SJSU connected on the long ball two possessions later, when Tafralis hit Skillern for a 79-yard touchdown pass for a 14-7 lead.

In the span of 12:21, the Spartans recorded their two longest passing plays of the season.

But Hill continued to pull out the stops. He rotated Rogers and Tafralis, often during the same series, to play to their specific strengths. He called for a fake field goal, resulting in a touchdown. SJSU attacked Boise State's defense with several downfield throws early, a few of which just missed for touchdowns with errant throws.

``When we woke up this morning and the way we ate our breakfast, I felt we had a sense of purpose,'' Hill said.

SJSU was surprisingly effective rushing the ball against the nation's No. 1 run defense, gaining 179 yards in 55 carries. The Spartans' aggressive passing attack in the first half -- Rogers and Tafralis combined for 214 yards -- helped set up the run.

The defense, which has given up some big plays this year, was stellar in the fourth quarter, holding the nation's top-ranked scoring offense to no points.

``We pretty much stayed with the same scheme, except in the fourth quarter, it's time to step up big,'' senior cornerback Jerrell Hardy said.

In the end, their efforts simply weren't enough. After tying the score 49-49 in overtime, the Broncos scored the winning touchdown on Jon Helmandollar's 1-yard run. Quarterback Jared Zabransky set up the touchdown on the previous play by gaining 5 yards on a third-and-five.

``All the losses are tough, but this one probably weighs a little bit more because the game was ours to win,'' Hardy said.

``When the field-goal unit went out on the field, I was expecting to run out and celebrate. When it was blocked, I still expected us to pull it out. This one was a little harder than the rest.''


Contact Mark Gomez at mgomez@mercurynews.com.

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