The Fresno State Bulldogs kicked off their 2013 campaign with a home opener for the ages, winning 52-51 in overtime against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
In a game that saw an inconceivable amount of twists and turns, it wasn't until Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova misfired on what would have been the game winning 2-point conversion that Fresno fans could exhale in relief. Nova, the junior veteran, otherwise played an incredible game, completing 26 of 41 passes for 348 yards and five touchdowns. Brandon Coleman, the team's best returning receiver, hauled in 9 balls for 94 yards, including two touchdowns. However, sophomore Leonte Carroo topped that with a breakout performance that included 5 catches, 135 yards and 3 scores.
Nova and the wide receiver tandem also benefited from a workhorse effort by junior running back Paul James. After a slow start, James brought the Rutgers running game to life after halftime and finished with 22 carries for 182 yards.
Fresno State had just enough to answer each of Rutgers' rallies, and the lion's share of credit for the victory goes to senior quarterback Derek Carr. Carr, the defending Mountain West offensive player of the year, had a record-setting night from the shotgun. He threw for 470 yards and five touchdowns of his own on 53 completions and 74 attempts, the last two figures now school and conference bests. Chances down the field were few and far between in that multitude of passes, but the Bulldogs' standout trio of receivers consistently made plays in space, on screens and crossing patterns.
Davante Adams, Isaiah Burse and Josh Harper became the first threesome in school history to catch 10 passes in the same game. Adams led the charge with 14 catches for 148 yards and two acrobatic scores. Harper, who missed most of 2012 due to injuries, returned with 14 grabs of his own for 94 yards and a pair of touchdowns that include the tying score near the end of regulation. Burse only caught 13 passes, but racked up 165 yards of total offense.
The scoring opened when Fresno State marched down the field on their first possession, capping a brisk 10-play, 74-yard drive with a 3-yard Josh Quezada run. Rutgers answered immediately, courtesy of a 100-yard return on the ensuing kickoff by Janarion Grant, and built a 20-7 lead well into the second quarter.
Carr caught a break on the following drive when a fumbled errant snap was overturned on review and the Bulldogs special teams recovered a muffed punt shortly thereafter. Malique Micenheimer got into the end zone on a 1-yard run to cut the lead to 20-14, then Carr engineered a flawless two-minute drill that culminated with his first touchdown toss to Adams. The connection gave Fresno a 21-20 lead at halftime.
Rutgers responded with a short field goal early in the third quarter from Kyle Federico, and the two teams exchanged touchdowns. After Carr hooked up with Adams to give Fresno a 35-31 lead with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter, both offenses partook in a bizarre sequence: Rutgers defensive back Lew Toler forced a fumble that the Scarlet Knights recovered, but Nova threw his only interception on a tipped pass that Fresno safety Derron Smith brought down in spectacular fashion. However, the Bulldogs fumbled on the next play and lost possession again.
Carroo caught two of his three touchdowns in the wild fourth quarter, the last of which gave Rutgers a 45-38 lead with 1:18 left in the game. A 50-yard return by Dillon Root set the 'Dogs up beyond midfield, and the offense was aided by a costly pass interference penalty -- one of eleven called against Rutgers -- before Harper evened the game with his second score.
Overtime seemed inevitable, but Rutgers mustered a last-ditch effort to give Federico an opportunity to kick the winning field goal as time expired. Unfortunately, Federico pushed his 43-yard attempt wide right.
Fresno wasted no time on its first OT possession. Carr threw a 25-yard strike on the first play to Greg Watson, and then watched as defensive back Charles Washington did just enough to keep the decisive points out of Coleman's reach.
The Bulldogs (1-0) will recuperate and host FCS foe Cal Poly on September 7. The Scarlet Knights (0-1) travel home to face FCS Norfolk State on the same date.