BOISE — As Utah State's final desperate lateral landed harmlessly in the arms of an Ohio defender, the Bobcats' sideline emptied with a euphoric field rush after the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The team quickly formed a joyous circle near the 20-yard line, celebrating the school's first bowl victory in history.
Don't tell me bowl games don't mean anything.
I'm as pro-college football playoff as anyone out there, but that doesn't mean there isn't a place for bowl games, even a third-tier one like Boise's Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Especially now that the game has secured the sponsor it needed all along in the Idaho Potato Commission. By combining the state's two most famous icons — the potato and Bronco Stadium's blue turf — the game has an identity, something that's been missing throughout its 15-year history.
"There's no confusion about where this game was. And we like that. We really feel like it's a brand," Potato Bowl Executive Director Kevin McDonald said.
The Humanitarian Bowl could be played anywhere. Same for the MPC Computers Bowl. Ditto Crucial.com — all previous names for the Boise-based game.
The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl can only be played in one place. It makes you wonder what took so long to nail down the sponsorship, especially when you see so many agriculture-based title sponsors each bowl season.
Better late than never. In the first year of its six-year sponsorship agreement, the Idaho Potato Commission and bowl organizers couldn't have asked for much more.
A nice day. A big crowd of 28,076, aided by a boisterous contingent of Utah State fans. And a fantastic finish, which has become the game's calling card. Eight of the 15 Boise bowl games have been decided by one score or less. Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton's touchdown run with 13 seconds left simply added to the late-game memories in the bowl.
And so the improbable bowl game in the unlikely destination defied the skeptics and won believers once again. It has figured out its sponsor. And found a nice niche and time slot on the bowl calendar — a primetime ending on the East Coast on the first day of postseason games.
At 15 years, the game has lasted 14 years longer than many figured it would. Ohio punter Paul Hershey wasn't alone when he wrote "Idaho?? Who the (bleep) wants to play there in December??" on Twitter after learning the Bobcats were headed to Boise.
Hershey's teammates weren't complaining Saturday night. They, like all who have come before them, raved about the hospitality of bowl organizers and the friendliness of the people in the Treasure Valley.
It is easy to dismiss these games as meaningless exhibitions. They basically are.
But it is much harder to dismiss the joy displayed by Ohio's LaVon Brazill after winning the MVP award or the agony evident on the faces of Utah State's players' faces. Or the excitement of Utah State fans who, having not been to a bowl game in 14 years, wore their Aggie gear with pride around the city and at the game. Or the happiness that Tettleton felt after diving in for the winning score.
"This was really meaningful to me," said Ohio coach Frank Solich, who won three national titles as an assistant at Nebraska.
Even with all of the positives going for the game (sponsor, time slot, great endings), continued conference realignment creates uncertainty. The game's ideal pairing would, no doubt, be Mountain West vs. Pac-12. That isn't happening and the WAC's unpredictable future presents additional questions. At some point, maybe soon, the game will have to find some answers.
"We're just going to have to let time pass," McDonald said.
Those hard answers can wait. Saturday was for celebrating. For Ohio, a first-ever bowl victory. For the Potato Bowl, another success.
Improbable as it seems, the plucky bowl game has carved out its niche in the college football world and the Boise community. Ohio's players will never forget it.
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company