The Broncos had
practiced the play throughout their bowl prep, "so I was kind of expecting
it," says Perretta, grinning at the memory 15 days later. "But at the
same time, I was a little surprised they called it when they did. I was
thinking, This is going to be really good, or really bad."
saving the coolest, deadliest trick in his playbook for last. It just worked
out that way. Play-calling at Boise is more democratic than at most other
programs. All three of the backup quarterbacks wear headphones and are free to
make suggestions. "The whole fourth quarter," says Tharp, "we kept
agitating for Statue." The Broncos were going to run it with 5:35 left, but
Oklahoma called timeout and Harsin went to another play.
The Statue of
Liberty is a hoary sleight-of-hand in which the quarterback fakes a pass, then
hands off to a running back. The Boise version features a funky twist, the
brainchild of freshman quarterback Nick Lomax (yes, former NFL signal-caller
Neil is his dad). During an idle moment in practice this season--such moments
are plentiful, Lomax explains, for a fourth-string QB--"this idea popped
into my head that we should run this play a different way. You make the same
throwing motion, but all the while the ball's in your left hand. I thought it
would be even more confusing to defenses."
that day. "I look over at the quarterbacks, and they're sticking the ball
behind their backs with their left hand. I just said, 'You gotta be kidding
me.' But they were all fired up on it, like it was the coolest thing ever."
He relented. Lomax's empty-handed fake carried the day.
called Statue Left in the huddle, wideout Legedu Naanee declared, "We just
won this game."
the usual array of shifts and motions, Zabransky broke the huddle intending to
use a hurry-up cadence, hoping to catch Oklahoma flat-footed. But the Sooners
called time. Petersen never considered changing the play. "We're givin' it
to Ian," he points out. "We're running over Schouman and Clady, two of
our best blockers. And there's great deception."
The Broncos had
run Statue once earlier in the season. It went for 10 yards against Idaho.
Alexander remembers seeing the play during film study. "We watched it five
or six times," he says. "We just said, 'Man, that's nice.' Everyone is
so patient--it's almost like it happens in slow motion. But when it's happening
on the field...."
On the field
Zabransky's throw-fake froze the defense for a full one-Mississippi. During
this time, Johnson was loitering behind the quarterback, who then snuck him the
ball with his left hand. Left guard Tad Miller stalemated defensive tackle Carl
Pendleton. Schouman put Birdine on the ground with a cut block. Clady looped
wide, hinged to his right and took Holmes out of the play. Johnson ran out the
side of the end zone and toward the 56 members of his family who were now going
bonkers in the nearby stands.
What of the
losers? Sooners coach Bob Stoops forbade his players from hanging their heads.
They'd overcome serial adversity to win their conference title, and no one
could take that away from them. Rather than marinate in misery, he celebrated
what he called "one of the best games ever played."
On the quiet ride
to the team hotel, Alexander came to terms with the defeat. "I'm sitting on
that bus," he recalls, "and my [college] career is over. We'd lost to a
team everybody said we were supposed to beat.