ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- With less than 2 minutes to play and Colorado State down by eight points, Shaquil Barrett knew the Rams needed the ball back quickly to finish an improbable comeback against Washington State.
Once down by 22 points in the New Mexico Bowl, the Rams got their chance when Cougars running back Jeremiah Laufasa came barreling toward Barrett.
"I was kind of thinking in my mind, yeah, `That was our shot to get back in the game right there," said Barrett, who stripped the ball. "I really didn't think I was going to get the opportunity."
That fumble, at the Cougars 33, set up Kapri Bibbs' 1-yard run score and Donnell Alexander's two-point conversion run that tied it at 45 with 33 seconds left.
Then, Washington State's Teondray Caldwell fumbled a kickoff return at the 24, setting up Jared Roberts' 41-yard field goal with 3 seconds left that gave Colorado State a 48-45 victory Saturday.
It was a quarterback shootout that saw close to 800 passing yards combined and a game largely dominated by Washington State until the last 2 minutes.
And Colorado State did not have a led the entire game until that winning field goal.
"That win right there...it's pretty amazing how it worked but at the end of the day, it's about being resilient," Rams coach Jim McElwain. "It's about understanding (that) every play has a history and life of its own."
Garrett Grayson threw for 369 yards and Bibbs ran for 169 yards and three touchdowns for Colorado State (8-6). The Rams overcame three early turnovers.
"I'm still kind of at a loss for words about how that whole thing ended up," Rams center Weston Richburg said. "It must have been destiny. That's the most unbelievable game I've ever been a part of."
Meanwhile, Washington State's Connor Halliday threw touchdown passes to six receivers and finished with 410 yards for Washington State (6-7). Those six touchdown passes tied West Virginia's Geno Smith and Iowa's Chuck Long for an NCAA bowl record.
After the first touchdown pass, Halliday got into a shouting match with a Colorado State coach when Halliday ran into the Rams' sideline. That exchange created a social media buzz and McElwain vowed look into it.
"Coach grabbed me and said some profane things to me and that's all I'll say about it," Halliday said.
Washington State scored 35 points in the first half, but had only 10 in the second. With the game winding down, a lack of a running game forced the Cougars to stay with their spread offense and prevented them for running down the clock when ahead by 15 points in the fourth quarter.
"Colorado State finished the game. We didn't," Washington State coach Mike Leach said. "They finished the game better than we did. The lesson to be learned from that is it doesn't matter where you're at. You need to go out and finish the game."
Washington State rushed for minus-10 yards total.
The match-up brought together two second-year coaches working to turn around their teams' fortunes with high-octane offenses.
Colorado State had not played in a postseason game since 2008. Washington State had not been in a bowl game since 2003.
McElwain predicted the bowl victory would help the Rams with recruiting and said it was evidence how far the program had come.
"Unbelievable," McElwain said. "You don't write scripts like this."
LAS VEGAS BOWL
USC 45, FRESNO STATE 20
LAS VEGAS -- Southern California wrapped up its rocky season by rolling over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Cody Kessler passed for 344 yards and a bowl-record four touchdowns in the Trojans' 45-20 victory over the 21st-ranked Bulldogs on Saturday under Clay Helton, their third head coach in less than three months.
Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor had two touchdown catches apiece, Javorius Allen rushed two more scores, and the Trojans (10-4) answered every question about their motivation by dancing on the sideline while routing a BCS contender for the storied program's first postseason victory since 2009.
Derek Carr passed for 217 yards and two TDs in his final game at Fresno State (11-2), which fell behind 35-6 at halftime and failed to secure the first 12-win season in school history.
From Kessler's smooth offense to a dynamic defensive effort against Fresno State's FBS-best passing game, USC was uniformly outstanding in its only game under Helton. The offensive coordinator filled the one-game gap between coaches Ed Orgeron and Steve Sarkisian on the Trojans' coaching carousel, but USC picked up right where Orgeron left off after its desultory start to the season under Lane Kiffin.
Kessler even outdid Carr, his fellow Bakersfield native and friend, setting the Las Vegas Bowl record for TD passes before halftime and finishing 22 for 30. Carr, the nation's leader in yards passing and total offense, became the fourth player in NCAA history to surpass 5,000 yards passing and 50 TD passes during the game. He went 30 for 54 under constant pressure.
NW MISSOURI 43,
FLORENCE, Ala. -- Trevor Adams passed for 277 yards and three touchdowns to lead Northwest Missouri State to a 43-28 victory over Lenoir-Rhyne on Saturday in the Division II championship game.
The Bearcats (15-0) won their fourth national title to match Grand Valley State for second-most behind North Dakota State's five. They're the fifth team to go 15-0, managing that feat for a second time.
Lenoir-Rhyne (13-2) fell short in only the onetime NAIA champion's second appearance in the Division II playoffs.
Adams completed 15 of 25 of passes with touchdowns of 29 and 30 yards to Reuben Thomas. The pair hooked up for their first score on fourth and 7 on the opening drive and the Bearcats were up 17-0 after 10 minutes.
Lenoir-Rhyne's spread flexbone offense couldn't catch up, despite a quick spark from backup quarterback and playoff star Josh Justice when he came in midway through the third quarter.
It was a record eighth title game appearance for Northwest Missouri, which captured its first championship since 2009.
The Bearcats remained in control throughout after the fast start.
Lenoir-Rhyne had won 13 consecutive games since losing the opener, despite losing quarterback Miles Freeman to a leg injury during the regular season and having backup Teverrius Jones go down with a neck injury in the second round of the playoffs.
Both quarterbacks were hurt before or during this game.
Jones returned to start this game after Justice came up big in all three playoff wins, but never got the offense going.
Lenoir-Rhyne fumbled five times, losing two.
Jones sprained a knee in the third quarter, bringing a gimpy Justice into the game. The senior didn't start after injuring his left ankle in practice on Wednesday and had been wearing a boot since.
On his second play, Justice managed a 59-yard touchdown to Greyson Wells, who bobbled the ball before heading to the end zone to cut the deficit to 29-14. Wells also caught a 34-yarder in the fourth quarter on running back Corron Boston's first pass of the season.
The nation's top running team still produced 273 rushing yards, 105 shy of their season average. Jarrod Spears led the way with 13 carries for 108 yards.
Lenoir-Rhyne hadn't attempted a pass in a 42-14 semifinal win over West Chester, when Justice ran for 175 yards, three touchdowns and converted three two-point attempts.
Justice couldn't keep his playoff magic going but was 3-of-3 passing for 69 yards. His touchdown pass was the team's first completion of the game and nearly matched the senior's 63 passing yards coming into the game.
Zach Neumann ran for a 1-yard touchdown with 1:04 left for the final margin.
The game ended a 28-year run for the Division II championship at Braly Municipal Stadium.
The championship game will move to Kansas City, Mo., next season after 28 years at Braly.
FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL
SAN DIEGO STATE 49,
BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Adam Muema rushed for 229 yards and three touchdowns and Quinn Kaehler threw two scoring passes in San Diego State's 49-24 victory over Buffalo on Saturday in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
The Aztecs took control at the midway point, putting up 21 straight points during a 5-minute span in the second and third quarters. The scoring frenzy was fueled by two Buffalo turnovers, the first when safety Marcus Anderson picked off an errant pass by Joe Licata to set up Kaehler's first touchdown toss to put the Aztecs up 28-10 at the half.
Buffalo coughed up the ball on the opening kick in the third quarter, setting up the Aztecs at the Bulls 26. Five plays later, Kaehler fired an 11-yard pass to tight end Adam Roberts at the back of the end zone to stretch the lead to 35-10.
The Aztecs (8-5, 6-2 Mountain West) won eight of their last 10 games. The victory is the first in the postseason since 2010 when they beat Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl and the first postseason victory outside San Diego city limits since 1969.
Kaehler, who took over the starting job in the third game, was 15 of 28 passing for 211 yards. His 29-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was his first rushing score of the season.
After getting off to a slow start, Muema picked things up in the second quarter, breaking off several long runs to keep Aztec drives alive. He finished with 230 yards on 28 carries, his fourth career game with more than 200 yards rushing. The Aztecs rolled up 460 total yards on offense.
For Buffalo (8-5, 6-2 Mid-American Conference), playing in its second bowl game in the team's 100-year history, not much went right.
The offense was stagnant early and didn't get its first, first-down until the 10:42 mark in the second quarter.
Sophomore quarterback Joe Licata, pressured throughout the game, struggled to find open receivers in the first half before the game was out of reach. He finished 13 of 30 for 196 yards and three touchdowns.
The defense, led by MAC Defensive Player of the Year Kahlil Mack failed to force the turnovers that were a hallmark much of the season. The Bulls came into the game with a plus-1.3 turnover margin, fourth best in the nation. Mack recovered a fumble near midfield in the first quarter, but the offense couldn't capitalize.
The Bulls managed just 309 yards total offense. Running back Branden Oliver rushed for 114 yards on 28 carries.
The game was also marred by penalties. Altogether, both teams were flagged a total of 21 times for 176 yards.
MOUNT UNION 14
SALEM, Va. -- Matt Behrendt and his Wisconsin-Whitewater teammates spent last year's NCAA Division III playoffs on the sideline, three-time national championship left out of the playoffs, and a chance to win their fourth title in a row,
They started what they hope is a new streak Friday night with a 52-14 victory over Mount Union.
"Talking for the seniors, it was the best thing that happened to our program," defensive end Loussaint Minett said of being excluded from the postseason in 2012. It gave the Warhawks inspiration to make sure it didn't happen again.
Behrendt made sure of it, throwing four touchdown passes while the Warhawks' defense stymied Gagliardi Trophy-winner Kevin Burke and the Purple Raiders, putting the game away with four second-half turnovers.
Behrendt finished 20 for 28 for 249 yards. He also ran six times for 56 yards, often in key situations. It was a tactic he hadn't used much this season, but in a game with the stakes as high as they get, he said he took whatever was available.
'They were trying to double cover our receivers all day, and that opened up lanes for me," he said.
He also seemed to make every throw, a performance highlighted by a scrambling, sidearm laser to Jake Kumerow in the front right corner of the end zone, a play where there was only one spot to throw the ball, and Behrendt got it there.
"When he's on a roll like that, you know it's going to be coming in hot," Kumerow said with a huge smile.
Kumerow and Tyler Huber each caught a pair of scoring passes, and Jordan Ratliffe ran for two for the Warhawks (15-0), who continued their domination of the series between the two powerhouse programs in Division III.
Whitewater, also the champions in 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011, have won four straight and five of its last six meetings with Mount Union in the Stagg Bowl. The Purple Raiders have won 11 titles, beating Whitewater in 2005, 2006 and 2008,
The teams have met eight times in the last nine years in the division's championship game.
The Purple Raiders (14-1), national champions last season, suffered their worst loss since falling 48-0 to Wittenberg in 1974. That game took place before their first-year head coach, Vince Kehres, was born.
"The turnovers were tough, but we weren't stopping them very good either," Kehres said.
The Warhawks led 21-14 at halftime behind Behrendt's three TD passes, and took command in the third quarter, turning a fumble recovery into a touchdown and a defensive stand at their 5 into a field goal that made it 31-14.
Another fumble recovery late in the third period set up Behrendt's final scoring throw. The junior quarterback, voted the most outstanding player, finished with 40 touchdown passes and just one interception this season.
"And the best thing about it?" coach Lance Leipold said. "He's a junior."
Mount Union quarterback Burke, who won the Gagliardi Trophy on Thursday night as the top player in Division III, was turned away when he tried to make something happen fast for the Purple Raiders after they went behind 38-14.
Burke threw deep on the ensuing series, and Warhawks cornerback Dylan Morang made a dazzling over-the-shoulder interception near the goal line and returned it to the Whitewater 30. Four plays later, Ratliffe's run made it 45-14.
"They did a good job of taking away what we wanted to do," Burke said. Asked what that was, he replied: "win."