Broncos execute trick to perfection
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It wasn't going to work. Not this time. TCU clearly had seen film of Boise State's game at Hawaii. The Horned Frogs immediately recognized the "punt" -- nudge-nudge-wink-wink -- formation.
Boise State linebacker J.C. Percy, the man with the final word on the punt team, may not have sighed, but his subsequent signals were the football equivalent of it. He knew that TCU had sniffed out the Broncos' patented fake punt.
"I gave the gunners a thumbs down to tell them it wasn't on," Percy said.
Ah, but Boise State isn't the sort of team to give up on football legerdemain easily. The X's were slightly rearranged on the sidelines. All the Broncos needed was another opportunity.
That opportunity just happened to come up -- at least according to coach Chris Petersen -- on a fourth-and-9 from the Boise State 33-yard line with 9:47 remaining in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and the game knotted at 10-10, when any points were at a premium.
Your reaction is correct: Are you freaking kidding me?
Think about the risks. Failure means the Horned Frogs already would be in field goal position.
"It takes balls to do that," Broncos tight end Tommy Gallarda said.
The call was made again. The Broncos lined up with a slight formation tweak. Percy again surveyed the scene. The middle was clear for tight end Kyle Efaw.
"I smiled as soon as we snapped the ball because I knew it was going to work," Percy said. "I turned away from the guy in front of me so he couldn't tell. But it was too late anyways."
Yes, it was. Punter Kyle Brotzman calmly found Efaw over the middle in an expanse of green grass untouched by a man wearing head-to-toe purple.
Efaw gamboled 29 yards to TCU's 38-yard line for a first down.
Three pass plays and a 2-yard run from Doug Martin later and the score was 17-10, which would hold as the final count. The Broncos finished a perfect 14-0 in large part because they always seem to completely befuddle their opponents.
"They outcoached us on that play," TCU coach Gary Patterson said.
But just imagine if it didn't work? Disaster. Terrible call!
But it did.
Petersen has long fought the image of Boise State's using tricks and gimmicks to beat foes who are a little bit bigger and a little bit faster than the Broncos. Not unreasonably, he believes it takes away from his team's ending up with more points than said opponent.
That's what happened in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl when Boise State nipped Oklahoma with a "Statue of Liberty" play for a 2-point conversion. The commentary -- at least in some quarters -- seemed just a bit patronizing afterwards.
Petersen didn't seem terribly concerned this time around. Euphoria makes it hard to be defensive.
"I think that's what they expect out of us, so we're happy to deliver if it gives us one more point than the other guys," he said.
Of course, what one group might call a "trick play," another might call a "good" or "creative" play.
"We don't even look at it as a trick play anymore," Gallarda said. "For us, it's all about executing. We've done it so many times, it's just routine for us."
That's what good teams do: Execution becomes routine. For example, executing means that a punter doesn't gag from the pressure of an audience of millions watching him trying to lob a ball to a wide-open receiver.
"I just wanted to hurry up and get it out of there," Brotzman said. "They'd been pressuring me all night. I just threw it up for Efaw and he grabbed it. I wasn't too nervous. I just saw they were coming. It was clear there was green grass for Efaw."
So the punter throws. Then the receiver must catch.
"I slid on the side and ran up the field, and he put it on the money and I didn't fumble, so it was a good play," Efaw said.
Yes, it was.
Ah, but then the Broncos had to close the deal. Fake the punt and get nothing, and that momentum swings back to TCU. The way things were going for both offenses, 38 yards was still a long way from the end zone.
But quarterback Kellen Moore, not his typical efficient self to that point, found Efaw for 11 yards on first down. He connected with Titus Young for 9 yards on the second play, and then Gallarda for 16 yards on the third.
On first-and-goal from the 2, Martin hurdled into the end zone.
None of those were trick plays. But the trick play ignited one team and doused the other. That's a good thing, right?
"That play really changed the momentum of the game," Martin said. "On that drive after it, we were unstoppable."
Said TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes, "That was huge -- was an emotional play to pull off."
Brotzman does some drills with the quarterbacks once a week. Moore said it was "kind of joking around."
Gadgets and gimmicks and sleight of hand and joking around. It's all part of Boise State.
"And every once in a while it pays off," Moore said.
And every once in a while, it means a team wins a Fiesta Bowl and finishes 14-0.
Ted Miller covers Pac-10 football for ESPN.com.