University of Washington

Years before Twitter, the Fiesta Bowl made Chris Petersen a trending topic

Boise State coach Chris Petersen was all smiles after Boise State squeaked out a 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
Boise State coach Chris Petersen was all smiles after Boise State squeaked out a 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Until now, Mack Brown never told anyone this story.

Brown watched Boise State and Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. That is, until the Sooners returned an interception for a touchdown to take a 35-28 lead with 1:02 left in the fourth quarter.

He went to bed thinking the game was over. This is the moment Brown and the rest of college football learned sleeping on Chris Petersen isn’t a wise idea.

“My son calls me and wakes me up and says, ‘Can you believe that?’ I said, ‘Can you believe what?’ ” Brown said. “He said Boise State came back and won the game. I said, ‘You’re kidding me?’ Thank goodness they ran the highlights on SportsCenter about 37 times that night.

“I had to get back up because I thought it was over.”

Boise State rallied for a late touchdown, forced overtime and grabbed a 43-42 win by using a daring Statue of Liberty play on a two-point conversion.

From there, a star was born. Petersen was the first-year head coach who turned Boise State into an upstart and put America on notice.

Several schools chased after Petersen, who ultimately chose Washington. In four years, he’s taken the Huskies from being a borderline Top 25 program and made them a surging national power that can compete for the College Football Playoff.

Petersen returns to the Fiesta for the third time in his career but this will be his first appearance with No. 12 UW. The Huskies (10-2) face No. 9 Penn State (10-2) at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

“You’re sitting at Boise and that was his first year as a head coach,” Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said. “Whether it was his first or second year, he was a relatively unknown name nationally.

“I think (beating Oklahoma) put him on the map.”

Alvarez, who coached Wisconsin for 15 seasons, was on the call as a color commentator with FOX.

He recalled watching both teams practice and came away impressed with how Petersen operated in that particular session.

Alvarez, a 2010 College Football Hall of Fame inductee, said he thought Boise State was athletic but not as athletic or as physical as Oklahoma.

OU was 11-2 and had several players who went on to the NFL. One of them was superstar running back Adrian Peterson.

“I felt like they could give them a game,” Alvarez said of Boise State. “But I thought Oklahoma was more talented.”

Petersen guided the Broncos to an 11-0 record but the team faced questions about their strength of schedule and for being a Group of Five program.

“We were fired up to go to a big-time bowl game,” said Huskies defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, who was Boise State’s defensive line coach at the time. “We were playing a big-time team and wanted to go out and perform at our best.

“Before going into it, it was about how we were going to handle Adrian Peterson if he came back.”

The Broncos took a 28-10 lead midway through the third quarter. Peterson, who came back from a broken collarbone, scored on a 6-yard touchdown run to trim the lead to 28-17.

Peterson scored on a 25-yard run in overtime to give the Sooners a 42-35 lead.

Boise’s response? It ran two trick plays. The first was when receiver Vinny Perretta threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Derek Schouman and that set up the iconic Statue of Liberty play on a 3-yard run by Ian Johnson for the game-winning score.

Those trick plays still follow Petersen to this day. When UW faced Alabama in the College Football Playoff last year, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban reportedly had his quality control staff chronicle every trick play Petersen used.

Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry said earlier in the week he’s paid attention to Petersen’s past.

“Well, let’s put it this way. We’ve rolled back about 10 years and have covered a bunch of tricks and gimmicks and gadgets,” he said. “I’m sure we won’t see one of those but we’ll see something. We try and incorporate it every day into our practice so our guys aren’t surprised.”

Petersen went 92-12 and won two Fiesta Bowls over an eight-year span at Boise State. He was a hot commodity for any Power 5 program looking for its next star coach.

“He turned down a lot of jobs to stay (at Boise State),” Brown said. “Most of the coaches would have left. He didn’t do that. He stayed for many, many years and he did it with such class.

“I think all those things made him the first name that popped up for the biggest and best job every year.”

After Steve Sarkisian left UW for USC in 2013, the school announced days later it hired Petersen. He signed a five-year, $18 million contract. Petersen signed an extension in April to make him the highest-paid coach in the Pac-12.

Petersen went 8-6 in 2014 and 7-6 in 2015 before going 12-2 in 2016 with a CFP semifinal appearance. In his fourth season, he’s guided the Huskies to winning 10 or more games in consecutive seasons for the first time since the 1991 and 1992 seasons.

He’s parlayed that success into building for the future as the Huskies have one of the nation’s top recruiting classes going into 2018. UW is considered to have the No. 12 class in the nation, according to 247 Sports.

chris petersen
Washington head coach Chris Petersen has guided the Huskies to back-to-back seasons with at least 10 wins. Timothy Gonzelez AP

Steve Wiltfong, who is 247’s director of recruiting, said Petersen found success in recruiting a certain type of player at Boise State. Like any coach, Petersen would look for talent but he also wanted to see if a prospect could meet his demands.

“I just don’t think he’s changed since Boise State. His approach has not changed,” Wiltfong said. “The type of recruit he wants has not changed. I think at Washington, he has a better chance to find more premier guys to land.”

Petersen’s win over OU also showed Group of Five schools can compete with its Power 5 counterparts. A number of Group of Five schools have beat Power 5 programs in New Year’s Six games over the years.

Alvarez, who is a member of the CFP committee, said he was a little worried when Wisconsin played Western Michigan in last year’s Cotton Bowl. The Badgers won 24-16.

“We beat them,” Alvarez said. “But it was a heck of a game.”

Steven Leach, the Fiesta’s Chairman of the Board, said Petersen’s win over the Sooners gave legitimacy to Group of Five programs on a national scale.

Leach said Group of Five teams typically bring something extra because they want to prove they can compete against the sport’s biggest programs.

All because of what happened on a particular desert night a decade ago.

“He is just a good person and you like to see good people succeed,” Leach said of Petersen. “I think that Fiesta Bowl, followed up a few years later by the other one, showed people how good he was.

“The trajectory doesn’t surprise me. He’s a really good coach, a really good person ... you just know he’s going to be good.”

Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark