The finish was another classic in what has become one of the most exciting postseason football games in the country.
However, shortly after the start of Saturday’s nationally televised Gildan New Mexico Bowl, an ugly scene involving a Colorado State assistant coach and Washington State’s quarterback lit up social media sites and grabbed national attention.
Just 2½minutes into the contest, Washington State’s Connor Halliday rolled to his right and threw the first of his FBS bowl-record-tying six touchdown passes.
His momentum took him to the Rams sideline, where he celebrated the score – and where CSU defensive line coach Greg Lupfer confronted him.
A slow-motion replay of ESPN’s footage appeared to show Lupfer directing a vulgarity and homophobic slur at Halliday as the two were face-to-face.
Another member of the CSU staff then shoved Halliday back toward the field.
“I’m aware of the situation. I’ve actually seen the footage. And it doesn’t look good, to be honest with you,” Colorado State athletic director Jack Graham told the Journal after CSU’s dramatic 48-45 win. “If it is what it appears it was, it’s not acceptable behavior at Colorado State University. We’ll take a deep dive at it to make sure we thoroughly understand what happened, and then we’ll deal with it appropriately.”
During the postgame news conference, the Journal asked Halliday, voted the game’s offensive MVP, what happened.
“Coach grabbed me and said some profane things to me,” Halliday said. “That’s all I’ll say about it.”
During his news conference, CSU head coach Jim McElwain said, “I heard something about it, guys, but honestly I don’t know anything about it until I look at it. We’ll definitely handle it in a quick manner. Right now, I’m really concerned about these guys in the locker room and how excited they are.”
More than two hours after the game ended, CSU posted an apology from Lupfer on the school’s football Twitter account.
“I am truly sorry for what I said,” the tweet read. “It was wrong and those words do not represent who I am and what I believe in. I apologize for the embarrassment I caused for Colorado State University, this team and my family.”
Prior to the tweets, the Journal asked Javan Hedlund, associate commissioner of communications of the Mountain West, if the league will take any action against Lupfer.
“Just like the regular season, we will review all of our bowl games,” Hedlund said. “If something were to be warranted to come out publicly, you’ll see a press release on it.”
Video of the incident
SACK MAN JAMES: Colorado State’s Cory James tied the bowl’s record for sacks in a game – and he did it in just two plays.
James sacked Halliday on back-to-back plays for a total of minus-21 yards midway through the third quarter. The sacks forced a punt after WSU had a second-and-4 at the CSU 20. Mitch Unrein (Wyoming, 2009) and Brett Madsen (UNM, 2007) also had two sacks, and were both defensive MVP of their respective games.
WILD AGAIN: On paper, it looked like Saturday could be another exciting New Mexico Bowl matchup. But topping last year’s game – when Arizona rallied for 13 points in the final 46 seconds to beat Nevada 49-48 – couldn’t possibly happen. Or could it?
CSU scored 18 points in the final 2:52 to erase a 15-point deficit, forcing two turnovers in the final two minutes.
“I love our game. It’s something,” said the bowl’s grinning executive director, Jeff Siembieda. “I don’t know how to explain it. You could feel the energy, not just in the stadium but in the city. The people coming in the last three days created a buzz around this event.”
In 2008, CSU beat Fresno State 40-35 in the bowl and in 2009 Wyoming topped Fresno State 35-28 in double overtime. Just like after those games, fans stormed the field on Saturday.
“For people who think games like this don’t mean anything, take a look at that,” Siembieda said.
The crowd was officially listed at 27,104. A University of New Mexico official estimated that CSU had between 8,000 and 9,000 fans.
MVP TAKE II: The late-game drama the past two years has made it tough on the media who vote for the bowl’s offensive and defensive MVP. The media is supposed to vote, via email, with no less than two minutes left in the game. On Saturday, Halliday (offense) and WSU safety Deone Bucannon (defense) received the most votes.
Despite the loss, Halliday – 37-of-58 for 410 yards, one pick and the six TDs – still got the honor. CSU fans booed the choice, which was announced just after the game, apparently feeling Rams sophomore running back Kapri Bibbs (169 yards rushing, three TDs) deserved it.
Defensively, however, it did change. Colorado State linebacker Shaquil Barrett – who had six tackles, then forced a fumble and recovered it with less than two minutes remaining and the Rams down 45-37 – won the honor. That play came on the next snap after he also had forced fumble that the Rams recovered, but was overturned by replay.
“I was kind of thinking in my mind, that was our shot to get back in the game right there,” he said of the overturned call. “… When the ball came out (on the next play), it was a lot of luck from the man above.”