ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Colorado State’s Gartrell Johnson was reluctant to talk about his career-high 285 yards rushing, so teammate Tommie Hill took over for him.
“I’m not going to give him credit because he got run down twice,” Hill joked after Colorado State rallied for a 40-35 victory over Fresno State on Saturday in the New Mexico Bowl.
Johnson added 90 yards receiving for 375 total yards and scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns. All day long, he left defenders reaching for the dreadlocks tumbling out of his helmet.
Johnson set a Football Bowl Subdivision record for the most combined yards rushing and receiving in a postseason game. His yards rushing were the second-most ever in a bowl, trailing only a 307-yard effort by P.J. Daniels of Georgia Tech at the 2004 Humanitarian Bowl. It was also the second-best rushing performance in school history.
“It just feels great,” Johnson said. “It’s good for everyone.”
Johnson sealed the victory on a 77-yard touchdown burst with 1:46 remaining, igniting a celebration by fans who made the 7-hour drive from Fort Collins, Colo. He was honored as the most valuable offensive player as Colorado State (7-6) won a bowl for the first time since 2001.
“He is a very physical back,” Rams coach Steve Fairchild said. “He made some big plays in the passing game, too, which really bailed us out. You can’t say enough. His numbers speak for him.”
If only Johnson would speak for himself.
He was more focused on his 57-yard run in the first quarter and a 57-yard reception on a shovel pass from Billy Farris in the second period. The reason? He was ribbed by teammates for getting tackled from behind.
“They told me, ’Hey, you got run down,”’ Johnson recalled. “But I broke the second run today, so I was able to talk trash back at them.”
The Rams took their first lead at 33-28 when Farris threw a 69-yard TD to Rashaun Greer with seven minutes left. Fresno State cornerback Sharrod Davis took a big chance but whiffed on his attempt to bat the ball. Greer made the catch at the 30 and went untouched into the end zone.
“Give credit to Colorado State. They made big plays and kept the pressure on,” Fresno State coach Pat Hill said.
The loss capped a rough season for the injury-depleted Bulldogs (7-6), who talked in fall workouts about a possible Bowl Championship Series run. They led 28-20 early in the fourth quarter.
The loss also spoiled big rushing efforts by Fresno State’s Anthony Harding and Lonyae Miller, who each scored twice. Harding finished with 120 yards rushing, and Miller added 113.
“We didn’t execute when we needed to and they did,” Harding said. “That was the difference in the game.”
Fresno State got within 40-35 with 55 seconds to go when Tom Brandstater threw a 7-yard TD pass to Ryan Skidmore. But Colorado State’s Kyle Bell had no trouble fielding the ensuing onside kick.
Fans came out of the stands as the final seconds ticked off, capping a strong first season for Fairchild.
“At one point Colorado State was the elite team in the Mountain West,” said Fairchild, a former Rams quarterback. “We’re not at that level yet, but it is our intention to get back.”
Johnson, who averaged 99 yards rushing this season, had 97 by the end of the first quarter. He went wild against a young Fresno State defense that had allowed 197 yards rushing per game.
Tommie Hill, meanwhile, earned most valuable defensive honors after making a key play as Colorado State scored 21 straight points. His interception set up a 1-yard TD run by Johnson that pulled the Rams within 28-26 with 9:45 to play.
“I wasn’t supposed to be in coverage. I was supposed to be upfield rushing,” Hill said. “I saw the back go for a screen. I just made a play on the ball.”
The Rams trailed 21-20 after 6-foot-6 Kory Sperry caught a perfectly placed ball from Farris and beat two defenders in the corner of the end zone with two seconds remaining before halftime.
The Bulldogs played without six starters — four on defense — who were lost for the season. But they were in control most of the way.
Miller scored Fresno State’s first TD on a 1-yard plunge. Then he bounced outside for a 69-yard TD run to put the Bulldogs up 21-13 late in the second quarter.
“There are a lot of reasons we came up short this season,” Hill said. “It was our fault. We need to get tougher, both mentally and physically. It wasn’t the injuries.”
Fairchild got the Rams in a bowl for the first time since the 2005 Poinsettia Bowl and turned a corner from last year’s 3-9 record, which led to the dismissal of Sonny Lubick.
“This game was big for a lot of reasons,” Fairchild said. “It gave us a chance to play in a bowl game, gives our program a lot of momentum.”
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Video: Football from NBC Sports
Saban hurt by colleagues' comments?
DPS: Alabama head coach Nick Saban was recently trash-talked by colleagues, and he tells Dan Patrick what he think of these comments.
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