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East Carolina holds on to win Hawaii Bowl

No. 24 Boise State rallies to tie it, then suffers defeat

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Marco Garcia / AP
Boise State running back Jeremy Avery, left, slips out of a tackle from East Carolina linebacker Jeremy Chambliss during the Hawaii Bowl on Sunday.
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updated 1:27 a.m. ET Dec. 24, 2007

HONOLULU - All Chris Johnson could think about after his record-setting night was how let his team down.

Johnson set an NCAA bowl record with 408 all-purpose yards, and Ben Hartman kicked a 34-yard field goal as time expired to give East Carolina a 41-38 victory over No. 24 Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl on Sunday night.

Johnson ran for 223 yards, caught three passes for 32 yards and returned six kickoffs for 153 yards. But he committed a costly fumble late that almost sent it to overtime. It was his first fumble of the season.

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“I let my team down,” he said. “But when I got back to the sideline, they told me they had my back and they loved me.”

Johnson made up for it with his big night.

“It feels good to end my career like this I wanted to come out here and show the country that I am the best back in the country,” he said.

Hartman’s kick gave the Pirates (8-5) their first postseason victory since the 2000 Galleryfurniture.com Bowl.

“I felt good going out there. I felt real confident,” Hartman said. “I just knew if I did my thing, it was going to go in.”

With East Carolina trying to run out the clock near midfield, Marty Tadman scooped up Johnson’s fumble and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown to tie it at 38 with 1:25 left.

The Pirates took possession at their 39 with 1:16 left and drove to the 17 to set up Hartman’s kick.

The Pirates stormed the field in celebration and chased after Hartman, who dashed toward the locker room.

Hartman said he took off because he was scared about get squashed underneath a pile of teammates.

The Broncos (10-3), making their sixth straight bowl appearance, almost repeated their last-minute magic from a year ago when they stunned Oklahoma in overtime in the Fiesta Bowl to finish 13-0.

But this time, it was the Broncos who fell a little short without any trick plays and an ailing Ian Johnson.

Johnson, who was nursing a sprained left ankle, carried the ball just once for 1 yard in the first quarter and finished with 11 yards on four carries.

It was Chris Johnson who stole the show.

He was selected the Most Valuable Player for the Pirates. Jeremy Avery, who rushed for 68 yards and caught four passes for 43 yards was Boise State’s MVP.

Taylor Tharp was 30-of-44 for 266 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions for Boise State.

Patrick Pinkney threw for 117 yards and also rushed for 53 more for East Carolina.

The Pirates appeared to have the game in hand when they took a 38-14 lead early in the third quarter on Brandon Simmons’ 3-yard TD run. The Broncos, however, hung in and reeled off 24 straight points.

D.J. Harper’s 1-yard TD plunge cut East Carolina’s lead to 38-31 with 7:09 left.

Most of the crowd was headed out of the stadium after Titus Young fumbled the ball, setting up the Pirates at their 39 with 1:45 left.

But East Carolina’s star couldn’t hang on to the ball as he struggled to add a few more yards to his record.

Johnson had 181 rushing yards in the first half alone, including a 68-yard TD run that put East Carolina ahead 10-7. He also caught a screen pass from Pinkney and went 18 yards for a score to make it 24-7.

Third-year Pirates coach Skip Holtz said he was proud of his players, especially Johnson.

“What rest of country saw is what we’ve been watching for three years,” he said. “I’m the president of the Chris Johnson fan club. I am his biggest fan. He is one of the hardest workers on this team. He’s humble. He works his tail off.”

Dominique Lindsay had a pair of 3-yard TD runs in the first half for East Carolina. His second touchdown gave the Pirates a 31-14 halftime lead.

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The usually explosive Broncos looked rusty and unprepared in the first half. They went three-and-out on their first four possessions, followed by an interception, touchdown and fumble.

Boise State, a 10½-point favorite, managed just 3 yards of offense in the first quarter while East Carolina racked up 181 behind Johnson’s 106 rushing yards.

The Broncos’ lone highlight in the first quarter was Austin Smith’s 89-yard kickoff return for a TD. In the second quarter, Ryan Putnam caught a 3-yard pass from Tharp to cut East Carolina’s lead to 10.

Boise State was without its top receiver, Jeremy Childs, who didn’t make the trip for violating team rules.

© 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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