October 19, 2001: Boise State picks up a defining win—its first-ever win over a Top 25 team, upsetting no. 8 Fresno State on the road, 35-30.A standing room only crowd of 42,881 and a national audience on ESPN watched the Broncos fall behind David Carr and the Bulldogs 28-14 early in the third quarter. But sophomore quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie brought Boise State back, throwing for 297 yards and four touchdowns, the last one a 54-yarder to Jay Swillie with seven minutes left. Swillie bounced off two defenders when he made the catch and outraced them to the end zone. And the lead held up.
The Broncos were in their first year in the WAC, and the Bulldogs were what they aspired to be. Undefeated Fresno State was a national story, having appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated (back when that was a thing) after taking down Wisconsin, Oregon State and Colorado as part of coach Pat Hill’s “Anybody, Anywhere, Anytime” mantra. Boise State was 3-3 at the time, having struggled in losses to South Carolina, Washington State and Rice. But coach Dan Hawkins could light a fire under anybody, the Broncos recognized the opportunity of playing on national TV on a Friday—it was the only televised game in the country that night.
Boise State started well with a 16-yard TD pass from Dinwiddie to Brock Forsey. But Fresno State busted out to a 20-7 lead in the second quarter. The Broncos stayed in it with a crucial TD on a throw to Jeb Putzier with 21 seconds left in the half—then they answered a third-quarter Bulldogs score with another Dinwiddie-to-Putzier TD to make it 28-21. Bulldog Stadium got nervous when a three-yard run by Forsey tied it, and it went silent when Swillie went in with his pinball touchdown.
The Bulldogs missed a field goal on their next possession and followed that with two punts. With 3:51 left in the game and Boise State bottled up at its own one-yard line with a fourth-and-23, Dinwiddie took a safety, and Hawkins entrusted the game to his defense. Fresno State got the ball at its own 43 and picked its way down the field in an agonizing 14-play drive.
The game was over with 51 seconds left when cornerback-sized Boise State linebacker Greg Sasser fought off a block on fourth-and-three from the Broncos’ five and sacked Carr, the one-time Heisman Trophy candidate. Sasser actually forced Carr to fumble, and it was recovered by teammate Mike Phillips, but the Broncos never got credit for it. I was watching at home on my couch, and I jumped straight up and yelled when Sasser made that play. My boys were seven and five at the time. They didn’t know what the heck was going on.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)