Last weekend, Stonehill beat LIU Post 40-37 on an unbelievable onside kick/Hail Mary combo. Most weekends, it would be the craziest thing to happen in D2 football. Not this week though.
That’s because there are comebacks, and then there are epic comebacks. BR-88 Adams State produced one of the latter category last Saturday.
Trailing 42-6 towards the end of halftime of the Colorado Classic rivalry game in Alamosa, Colorado, the Grizzlies scored 36 straight points over the final 30-plus minutes to force overtime against (and ultimately defeat) BR-97 Western State Colorado 52-51 in the largest comeback in college football history.
The Grizzlies’ improbable rally surpassed the previous NCAA football record for largest deficit overcome in a game, 35 points, last set by Bloomsburg on Oct. 22, 2011 in a 55-42 win over West Chester, in the Golden Rams’ homecoming game, no less.
The Grizzlies’ win also broke the overall NCAA record for largest come-from-behind win, set by Michigan State, who trailed Northwestern 38-3 with 9:54 left in the third quarter and scored 38 straight points for the 41-38 win on Oct. 31, 2006. (Ironic twist: Michigan State’s head coach in that game was one John L. Smith, now the head coach at RMAC rival BR-105 Fort Lewis.)
Now that the dust has settled and the Grizzlies are preparing for Saturday’s Homecoming showdown with the defending national champion BR-17 Colorado State-Pueblo, we break down the dramatic second half with Adams State head coach Timm Rosenbach.
HERO: With 32 seconds left in the first half, you’re down 42-6 after another Western touchdown. How big of a momentum boost was Auston Hillman’s touchdown pass to Chad Hovasse at the end of the half?
Rosenbach: “We got the ball back with enough time to run our up tempo offense. A few seconds on the clock should be a long time for us. So, when we got back into range to throw a Hail Mary-type play, it was pretty easy to make that decision to go ahead and chuck one up in the end zone. That was something that helped momentum wise. When we went in for halftime, I think everyone still had that shocked look on their face. For me, it was just trying to figure out where to go from here.”
Was there a point in the third quarter where you and your players felt you had a chance to rally for the win?
“As soon as it was 42-21, I just had a feeling on the sideline that everybody was back into the game. We were thinking, ‘This isn’t unheard of. There’s a lot of time left in this game.’ We never practice the two minute drill, we always practice a one minute drill. If we have three timeouts with two minutes left, we think that’s two possessions for us. We felt like we were in pretty good shape at that point when it was 42-21.”
In the fourth quarter, Western stopped the Grizzlies on a 4th and 3 from the 27, but you cut the lead on your next possession. What was going through your mind at that point?
“When they stopped us on 4th down, I was like, ‘Oh, boy.’ You can second guess yourself there a little bit, but we had to go for it. It was fourth down and a long 2, and probably, when you look at it on film, we probably could’ve gotten the first down. We came back and got down there again, then [Hillman] threw the swing pass to Addie Brown and he found a way to get into the endzone.”
With three minutes left, you get the ball back and ultimately tie the game. Yet, it almost didn’t get to that point. How did you overcome the miscues on the start of the drive?
“We had the ball on the 16 and we had three timeouts. [Hillman] was taking too long getting the play going after we got stuffed on first down. We ran a bunch of time off the clock and I was livid.
I called timeout and called everyone over to the sideline. We should’ve had the ball snapped. He was trying to make sure he was in the right frame of mind. We got the play we liked, we got back out there and he hit a big vertical to Darvin McCauley and got going. That kind of sparked it and we had plenty of time to figure out how we were going to get the ball in the end zone.”
Jimmy Holtrop came up with the game tying touchdown pass in with 30 seconds left. How did that play come about?
“We got down there and we had a play that we ran to Jimmy, an individual route for him in man coverage. We worked on it pretty much all camp. It was the right time and everything panned out. You had what you needed at that point, and we were able to execute it. That’s the big thing.
Everybody has got great plays on paper, but you have to execute them.”
You traded field goals heading into the first overtime, but Holtrop (11 catches, 121 yards) caught his third touchdown pass of the game. How big was that catch after Hillman got sacked on the previous play?
“That was the way the whole game went. We had a nice little gain on first down, then you get sacked and all of the sudden, it’s third and 9. Those guys were pretty much on the same page all day, that was probably the right combination to get to at that point.”
Western answered quickly with a touchdown of their own, but your defense stepped up big when they broke up the two-point conversion attempt. Talk us through that sequence.
“They threw a screen pass, they got down there and then they scored pretty quick on a bootleg where we lost a guy in man coverage. (On the two point conversion), they were going to run a screen and we decided we were going to pressure. That’s going to go either way. It was going to either be out the gate and an easy walk-in for them or we were going to force them to throw it too early. It’s a 50/50 shot.
We forced them to throw it too early, the timing was off and the ball was incomplete. Had we not gotten pressure on them he would have completed it and the guy would’ve walked into the end zone.”
You’ve engineered your share of comebacks as a player at Washington State and with the Phoenix Cardinals. Where does this rank as far as rallies you’ve led as a player?
“It more compares to when we beat UCLA when they were ranked number one. We were 4-3 at the time and they had Troy Aikman and [defensive lineman] Jim Wahler. We were down 27-6 at halftime and came back to beat the #1 team in the country (34-30). That’s a pretty big stage, it was on national TV.
My mom was at the game; she’s a coach’s wife and she’s seen a lot of football. She said that was the most exciting game she’d ever seen. I said that I hope I don’t have to do that to you too much. It was certainly one of those ones that I’ll remember forever.”
Adams State hosts CSU-Pueblo on Saturday. How do you carry the momentum from last week’s game into this week?
“It goes back to halftime, all I did was tell them that we built a giant hole. We dug a giant hole (in the first half) and let’s try to build something here and start building for the rest of the season in the second half. Wherever that takes us, we’ll see where we’re at at the end of the game.
That’s what we have to continue with through practice this week. We have to take those things and understand that we have those abilities.
It’s homecoming and it’s the defending national champions. The odds are stacked against us, but there’s nothing more dangerous than a team with nothing to lose. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”