They were so close. So tantalizingly, agonizingly and frustratingly close.
But time ran out on the CSU Rams, just 12 yards short of an improbable comeback victory, leaving them with a 28-23 loss to Nevada in the inaugural Arizona Bowl.
The Rams (7-6) had trailed most of the game before setting up freshman kicker Wyatt Bryan for a 38-yard field goal that gave them a 23-22 lead with 3:40 to play. Nevada (7-6) responded with a rally of its own, driving 72 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and a 28-23 lead with 58 seconds to play.
Rally falls short
The Rams, led by quarterback Nick Stevens and record-setting wide receiver Rashard Higgins, refused to quit, driving 76 yards from their own 12-yard line to the Wolfpack 12 before time expired, leaving them short of their second last-second bowl win in three years.
“I thought Nick (Stevens) showed a lot of toughness and fortitude, and he continued to put us in a position to make plays, and we did that,” first-year Rams coach Mike Bobo said. “We came back and took the lead, but weren’t able to hold the lead. We work on that a lot and we just didn’t finish. Time ran out and we would like to have one more snap, but we didn’t.”
Much to celebrate
Despite the loss, it was a successful season for the Rams and Bobo, who set a school record for first-year CSU coaches with seven regular-season victories. Some of the highlights:
- The Rams qualified for their third consecutive bowl game, a first for the program since they played in bowls from 1999-2003. CSU is now 6-9 in bowl games.
- The Rams tied for second in the Mountain Division in conference play and handily defeated division champion Air Force.
- Higgins established himself as the most prolific pass-catcher in school history, setting school records for career yards (3,649), receiving touchdowns (31) and catches (239).
- Senior safety Trent Matthews was one of 11 players in the country named to the AFCA Allstate Good Works team, the most prestigious off-the-field honor in college football. The award recognizes players who have made a positive impact in their communities.
- Junior Hayden Hunt was one of three finalists for the Ray Guy Award, given annually to the nation’s best punter. Hunt is just the third CSU athlete to be a finalist for a top individual award, joining Greg Myers (Jim Thorpe Award winner, 1995) and Higgins (Fred Biletnikoff Award, 2014).
- Stevens set a CSU sophomore record with 2,679 passing yards, capping his year with a career-best 310 passing yards in the bowl game.
While the Rams fell short in their bowl game, there is plenty of reason for optimism heading into the 2016 season. At least 13 starters return, and Bobo already is assembling what looks to be a high-quality class of recruits.
“I thought we got better throughout the year and improved in all areas as a football team and became more consistent,” Bobo said. “We’re disappointed we lost this game but we’ve got a bright future in front of us.”