ALBUQUERQUE — With less than two minutes to play and Colorado State down by eight points, Shaquil Barrett knew the Rams needed the ball back quickly to finish an improbable comeback against Washington State.
Once down by 22 points in the New Mexico Bowl, the Rams got their chance when Cougars running back Jeremiah Laufasa came barreling toward Barrett.
“I was kind of thinking in my mind, yeah, ‘That was our shot to get back in the game right there,’ ” said Barrett, who stripped the ball. “I really didn’t think I was going to get the opportunity.”
That fumble, at the Cougars 33, set up Kapri Bibbs’ 1-yard rushing TD, and Donnell Alexander’s two-point conversion run that tied it at 45 with 33 seconds left.
Then, Washington State’s Teondray Caldwell fumbled the kickoff return at the 24, setting up Jared Roberts’ 41-yard field goal with no time left that gave Colorado State a 48-45 victory Saturday.
It was a quarterback shootout that had close to 800 passing yards combined. Washington State largely dominated until the last two minutes.
Colorado State did not have a lead the entire game until that winning field goal.
“That win right there … it’s pretty amazing how it worked, but at the end of the day, it’s about being resilient,” Rams coach Jim McElwain said. “It’s about understanding (that) every play has a history and life of its own.”
Garrett Grayson threw for 369 yards, and Bibbs ran for 169 yards and three touchdowns for Colorado State (8-6). The Rams overcame three early turnovers.
“I’m still kind of at a loss for words about how that whole thing ended up,” Rams center Weston Richburg said. “It must have been destiny. That’s the most unbelievable game I’ve ever been a part of.”
Meanwhile, Washington State’s Connor Halliday threw touchdown passes to six receivers and finished with 410 yards for Washington State (6-7). Those six touchdown passes tied West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Iowa’s Chuck Long for an NCAA bowl record.
After the first touchdown pass, Halliday got into a shouting match with a Colorado State coach when Halliday ran into the Rams’ sideline. That exchange created a social media buzz, and McElwain vowed to look into it.
“Coach grabbed me and said some profane things to me, and that’s all I’ll say about it,” Halliday said.
Washington State scored 35 points in the first half, but had only 10 in the second. With the game winding down, a lack of a running game forced the Cougars to stay with their spread offense and prevented them from running down the clock when ahead by 15 points in the fourth quarter.
“Colorado State finished the game. We didn’t,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said. “They finished the game better than we did. The lesson to be learned from that is it doesn’t matter where you’re at. You need to go out and finish the game.”
Washington State rushed for minus-10 yards total.
The matchup brought together two second-year coaches working to turn around their teams’ fortunes with high-octane offenses.
Colorado State had not played in a postseason game since 2008. Washington State had not been in a bowl game since 2003.
McElwain predicted the bowl victory would help the Rams with recruiting and said it was evidence how far the program had come.
“Unbelievable,” McElwain said. “You don’t write scripts like this.”