Robb Akey still lights up when he's asked to recapture the scene.
From his home in Washington, D.C., Akey's voice is as raspy and recognizable as it ever was. Over the phone, the vocal cords jump a few levels when names like Preston Davis, Max Komar or Nate Enderle are brought up.
It's been seven years since the climactic finish in Boise, but the 2009 Humanitarian Bowl doesn't feel like such a distant memory.
Generations of Idaho fans know the 43-42 win over Bowling Green as an instant classic.
It certainly didn't lack compelling story lines. In the first quarter, Bowling Green's prolific receiver, Freddie Barnes, rewrote NCAA single-season history with his 143rd reception. At halftime, with the teams tied 14-14, Akey guaranteed a thrilling second half, telling ESPN viewers to "Watch the second half, you're gonna love it." Night fell on the Treasure Valley and the Vandals, with a few last-gasp heroics, made up a seven-point deficit in the final half-minute. The drama was capped with Akey's gamble to go for two. Enderle hit Davis in the back of the end zone and, minutes later, streams of silver and gold rush onto the blue turf, celebrating the program's first bowl win in 11 years.
The game's biggest moments still loom large. Three days before the Vandals make the program's third appearance in the Boise bowl, the H-Bowl's biggest characters help retell the story from a historic night at Bronco Stadium.
Robb Akey, Idaho coach: "I wasn't real fired up about the color of the turf or any of those kinds of things, but being able to play it there, I thought that was awesome for us."
Tom Morris, Voice of the Vandals: "I think the main thing is that it was such a turnaround from unsuccessful seasons and here it is all of the sudden, we are now in a bowl game and it took the whole state by storm and so the buildup was huge and it was refreshing."
DeMaundray Woolridge, Idaho running back: "When we first stepped onto the field, it was really frozen, so us backs, we were making our cuts and we were like, 'Man this is hard as rock.' It was kind of like a laughing deal. We understood that we had to keep our feet underneath us the whole game."
Freddie Barnes, Bowling Green receiver: "It's funny enough, I was always like a Boise (State) fan. Chris Petersen, I loved him as a leader and my favorite color is blue and they always had games during the week, so whenever we weren't playing them I wanted them to win their games."
Tyler Sheehan, Bowling Green quarterback: "I know a lot of our young guys didn't go (to Boise State) the year prior (and) were like, 'Man, we couldn't get a bowl game down south?' I was like, 'Guys, listen, you'll enjoy it. Trust me.' I think everybody came out of that with kind of the same perspective as I did. You think going out to Boise, Idaho, it's going to be potatoes, it's going to be rural. Boise's a beautiful place. It's one of those cities that's like a hidden gem to me."
Akey: "My whole deal to them was to play as fast as you can, as hard as you can, as long as you can and make the country fall in love with you by the way that you play. And I said that because they were going to have a national stage. It was the only game being played in the world. It was the only football game being played in the entire world on that day at that time."
Mike Iupati, Idaho offensive guard: "We had a little swag in us. It was awesome, man. We were anxious and nervous at the same time."
Bowling Green receiver Freddie Barnes entered the postseason with 138 receptions, needing only four to match the FBS single-season record.
Barnes: "I prepared all summer. I would run to our practices and our lifts from my home and I was playing basketball with our basketball team, I was catching 100 jugs every day. Stretching and doing just about everything that somebody like Jerry Rice would tell somebody that he did in regards to preparing to be great. Once that work was put in, every night before the game I would visualize each play as I took an Epsom salt bath and I would see myself actually catching the ball and going upfield."
Todd Walker, Voice of the Falcons: "(Freddie) really started his career as a quarterback. He was a running quarterback but nonetheless when he moved to receiver later, we didn't go into 2009 thinking, 'Man, this offense is going to be prolific,' and this, that and the other. We really had fairly low expectations. Not to denigrate the rest of the team, but it was not a dynamic offensive team at the time. If you look at the year before, Barnes was the No. 2 receiver on a bad team. There's no reason to think he's going to be talking about NCAA records the next year."
Barnes: "My goal was to be an All-American, my goal was to have an opportunity to play in the NFL, but in no way, shape or form did I expect it to be how it was."
Sheehan: "It was a unique season from that standpoint because preseason going in, we lost a few receivers that graduated and then going into that year in preseason camp and spring ball, we lost an additional two or three guys, so it was one of those things that Freddie was our best available option a lot of times. We knew going into the game if we didn't target him at least 15, 20 times we were doing something wrong in the game plan."
Walker: "I don't want to say you'd become numb to it, but when you catch that many passes, we knew the record was pretty much a foregone conclusion unless he missed the bus to the stadium."
It didn't take long. On a short speed-out with 1:51 to play in the first quarter, Barnes reeled in a pass from Sheehan to make FBS history.
Sheehan: "Coming into that drive, we knew he needed one or two catches. I always told myself I wouldn't force to get it to him. It would kind of just happen naturally and it did that way. The thing with Freddie was he wasn't the fastest guy, he wasn't the quickest guy. So I think a lot of teams saw him on film and were like, 'You know, he's putting up numbers but we can stop him. We don't have to double him up, we don't have to put two guys over the top.' "
Barnes: "At that point in time, there was no way I couldn't say I wasn't aware of how many catches I needed and when I got that one, it was just something in me that said let's go ahead and capture this and hand it to our equipment manager and he held on to it."
Akey: "I can't forget him. He still wakes me up in the middle of the night today."
Later named H-Bowl MVP, Idaho running back DeMaundray Woolridge was his bullish self in the game, rushing for 126 yards and two touchdowns. He did it by running past defenders and through them. Of course, it didn't hurt to have Outland Trophy finalist Mike Iupati blocking.
Woolridge: "I remember (Iupati) looking back at me after, I believe it was the San Jose State game. That's the game we had the drive with the touchdown at the end. He looked back at me after the game he was like 'You were the missing piece loose, you were my missing piece, you were my missing piece.' And I didn't know what he meant by that. I asked him, 'What do you mean?' He goes, 'I just always wanted a bigger guy behind me running the ball. I love all my brothers but' He goes, 'Me and you just work together good and I think we're going to have a good year.' I was like, 'Well yeah, we're having a good year, we're 5-1.' And he's like, 'Yes but next week we'll be 6-1 and then 7-1 and then 8-1.' "
Akey: "You've got to remember, Mike Iupati finished second in the Outland Trophy that year. You think about that, that's huge. That's how good a player Mike Iupati is. And Ndamukong Suh is the one who won it that year and he's a beast."
Morris: "I didn't see the grading sheet but I'm sure (Iupati) graded out as high as anything. He didn't make mistakes. Few mistakes and off the field, gentle giant. Took care of his family, the whole thing. He was the complete package on and off the field."
Akey: "You could count on DeMaundray. He could get you the downhill stuff and he was physical enough, he could give you that. But he had the speed to break away from folks, too. That's what folks didn't always realize about him."
Morris: "Then when other players tried to tackle him, he looked like a caterpillar. You'd get two or three defenders and he'd keep his legs going and you'd see this mass of players kind of chugging along with an extra second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth yards after contact. That was great."
Iupati: "You give him a little crease and he'll take it and make it. And open that hole up. He was amazing, man. He was shifty for how big he was. And a very humble guy."
Morris: "The diesel. We called him the diesel. DeMaundray. It was so good because I remember a couple of times where it's third-and-1 and I just said - before the snap - 'It's going to be an Enderle handoff to the diesel behind Iupati. Here's the snap, diesel behind Big Mike, touchdown.' And those guys were such a dynamic team."
AKEY THE PROPHET
In a halftime interview with ESPN's Heather Cox, Akey told the TV audience, "Watch the second half, you're gonna love it." It would later assume a life of its own.
Akey: "Heather's gone on to a great career from that, hasn't she?"
Brock Huard, ESPN color commentator: "Any time you get just a genuine non-coach-speak, you kind of get a feel for exactly what they're thinking and feeling, that's a huge bonus. So that absolutely moved the needle in the truck and in the booth and he was right. It was one heck of a show."
Woolridge: "He just came in with so much energy and we had no idea he had promised ESPN a great show, but he definitely came in and demanded one from us. We had no idea that Akey gave that promise, but when we actually saw it, it was hysterical. I laughed when I watched it on TV."
Akey: "I go, 'What the hell did I say?' I didn't even know what the hell I said. Then it was a day later and a buddy of mine, we had coached together, he was listening to sports talk radio. He was listening to Scott Van Pelt and they're talking about this guy, this halftime interview and he said this, this and this and he said, 'Hey, you've got to hear this.' I didn't know if I needed to defend myself or what. I said, 'What could I have said that was a big deal?' And then I watched the replay of it and I say, 'Oh (expletive), I guess it timed out kind of well, it was worth watching in the second half, wasn't it?' "
Morris: "That's the way he was. Akey exuded confidence that year and that's the way he was. If you didn't know him, you're going 'What's this guy doing?' But if you did know him, it was like, 'OK, that's Akey.' "
Walker: "I think coach Akey was a bit prophetic with that because it was a heck of a second half."
LEFT WIIIIIDE OPEN
In the game's final minute, Sheehan directed an 80-yard scoring drive, capping it with a 51-yard touchdown heave to his top target. Barnes' 17th catch was his easiest and the Falcons took a 42-35 lead with :32 left.
Walker: "It just felt like it was fitting for Freddie that that's the way the season should end and I really felt that when he caught that ball and scored that Bowling Green was going to win."
Morris: "He had to be located and he was not on his last touchdown. I remember watching that again over and over. The corner bit on him and he just took off and they scored. I think Bowling Green at that point, I thought they had won."
Akey: "I know everybody was looking at me like, 'How did he catch what was potentially the game-winner for them with a minute left to play in the ballgame?' 'How could he be free?' "
Barnes: "Once I saw that the corner on me was off about 7 to 8, maybe 9 yards. And then he stepped up so that made it cover two. Once I beat him, I got wide closer to the sideline. We were running pretty much all goes, everybody was running a go route so once I saw that the safety didn't come off the hash - and even if he did, I got wide enough to where I knew once I beat that corner that I would be wide open. So I was just concentrating on catching the easy pass and finishing it."
Sheehan: "He just ran right through it and it was probably one of the easier touchdowns he had all year."
Akey: "I still have some people that used to be friends of mine that I understand walked out of the stadium at that point in time that I don't talk to anymore because they lost faith in us."
32 SECONDS TO GLORY
You know the rest. Needing something big, Nate Enderle aired out a 50-yard bomb to Preston Davis. With Falcons draped all over him, Davis hung on.
Woolridge: "The deep throw, that was Nate. That's why we all gave him the nickname Nate the Great. He wasn't going to sit back and try to pick and choose little routes downfield. He was going to try and go for their throats right away."
Akey: "It was nut-cutting time and it was where the guys were and he threw the ball to a guy and gave him a chance to make the play and Preston had accurate hands and made a good play for us at that point in time. So as a coach, you're looking at that ball in the air, you're going, 'Make the play, make the play, make the play,' and you say, 'Heyyyy, attaboy.' "
Iupati: "Honestly, it was, 'You better catch the ball.' Especially as offensive linemen, you block and you don't see the play going. Sometimes you kind of feel when the quarterback throws it, you kind of watch the play happen and it was one of those things, 'Please catch it.' "
Sheehan: "Honestly to me, I was thinking just pass-interference him. Just don't let him come down with the ball by any means possible."
Barnes: "I would say that I felt that my coaches should've put me in the game like we were doing all year. So yeah, more or less I would have to say that I was helpless. Seeing that I was a captain and it was my last game and I felt like, had I been out there, things would've been different."
Two plays later the Vandals capped the drive. Enderle hurled a 16-yard pass to Max Komar, who scooped up a low fastball while sliding across the orange end zone.
Akey: "Remember, he had a couple drops early in the game and that was unlike him because he was the most sure-handed guy, I mean he caught everything. I put my arm around him and I said, 'Hey listen, Max,' I said, 'Bubba you've got to get that out of your head. Don't fret on that. You just move on.' I said, 'I'm going to tell you what, you're going to catch a game-winner for us, goddamn it.' And well he drops another one after that. I go, 'Well (expletive), I guess that talk did a lot of good.' "
Woolridge: "I remember saying to (Max) afterward, all those years of baseball in high school paid off. Because he had to slide - make a really, really low slide while keeping his head up the whole time to catch the ball. So I told him, you look like you're sliding into home or something."
Huard: "I do remember, Max was an Auburn (Wash.) kid, I believe. Auburn High School, so from my backyard where I kind of grew up and had such a phenomenal season and had a rough game and had to overcome it and make the plays. As my dad would tell you, winners win in the end."
Akey: "A lot of guys, a lot of receivers. They would've never come out of that and Max did and he made a huge, huge play. Great catch."
THEY'RE GOING FOR TWO
Akey: "You want to know when I made that call? When they were kicking off to us, after they'd scored, when we went to kickoff, I got on the headset with my coordinator and I said, 'Do you have a great two-point play?' He said, 'Akey, I got two.' I said, 'OK,' and I clicked back over."
Woolridge: "The initial plan, I'm pretty sure even Bowling Green thought so, was to run me behind Big Mike and just go score. I was like, 'They're not going to stop me, I'm going to go score.' And Big Mike was like, 'Just get behind me, brother, just get behind me. The hole will be there.' I was like, 'Don't worry, we're going to get it in.' But right when we thought about that, I remember saying along with one of the coaches one of the coaches said, 'Don't you think that's what they're thinking also?' So we mulled it over on the sidelines and we went with the decision to switch backs and put in Deont'e Jackson so that they didn't know what was going on."
Morris: "(Akey) was kind of the old Wild West gunslinger. Why not?"
Iupati: "I just thought we were going to kick the ball and tie it up and go to overtime. And I knew for a fact that if we did, we still would've won no matter what. I just went with it. He calls it, we've just got to execute."
Sheehan: "It did (surprise me) and it didn't. To me thinking, they essentially have a home game, they're able to - the old adage is you go for two when you're on the road and try to win the game that way. I think honestly the way our offense was playing, they didn't want to get into an overtime scoring fest."
Huard: "In a bowl environment, even though it was in the state of Idaho, I totally understood from his decision his personality, his flair that no, I wouldn't say we were surprised."
Akey: "Then Nate Enderle is coming over to me and he's standing there talking to me I said, 'Hey we're going to do this, you feel good about it, right?' He said, 'Coach, hell yeah.' When the guy that's going to throw the ball can tell me that, I knew he's going to get it done. You know what I'm saying?"
Morris: "You've got to keep your emotions but that's the thing. The whole time that we're going to go for two, I'm thinking about it. I'm going, 'Don't screw this up. Get it right, get it right, get it right.' Enderle back, throws, back of the end zone, touchdown. Preston Davis. Vandals win."
Buck Cowan, current Idaho tight end: "The thing I remember most was we were in the box suite and my dad hit the ceiling and broke one of the ceiling tiles, but never got charged for it. That was a great moment for sure."
Iupati: "I feel like we won the Super Bowl. That's how I felt like. One of those moments you can never take back."
Woolridge: "It's one of those things, this can't be happening to me, this can't be happening to us. But it happened and we had a good time after that game, I can tell you that."
Morris: "I got back to the hotel, my wife was with me. We had a bunch of people back at The Grove. And I'll never forget, we just sat and I took a long, deep breath and I go, 'What have we just seen?' "
Barnes: "I had some resentment for a little while against our coaching staff, whose decision it was not to put me out there. And one of the cornerbacks. But I let it go and I was always grateful for everything that happened because it was a special year for our team."
Walker: "It went from, this is a great game, coach (Dave) Clawson's first year is going to be a rousing success after it started badly. This team won its last four games, whatever it was, we got to this bowl game and Freddie Barnes is a great story and a national award finalist. All this and that. It all came crashing down. I just remember being about as exhausted after a game as maybe ever, just from all the factors."
Sheehan: "Obviously it wasn't as loud and as proud as a Boise State game is like the game was year prior. But it still got loud, that stadium gets really loud being in the mountains. Everything being metal. It seems like every third down we had to go silent count because people were banging keys on the metal bleachers and the metal siding and stuff."
Huard: "Honestly, you're just excited for a close game. I think in my years of doing this and now getting around the Joe Bucks and the Aikmans and the Tiricos and those guys even at the very top of the food chain, just kind of having spent some time and talking to them, it's no different. It really doesn't matter if it's a high school game on the radio or if it's the Super Bowl. You just want compelling, meaningful story lines and action."
Iupati: "Other than the Super Bowl, I think that's the most memorable game and most exciting game I've been in. The Humanitarian Bowl."
Akey: "For that game to be recognized when you've got all the SEC games, you've got the Granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl, and people were saying this was one of the greatest ones to watch that year, that's awesome. Hell, we're playing the Arizona Cardinals and I'm running into the tunnel at halftime and I get a dude hollering a 'Go Vandals' at me running off the field."
Woolridge: "I still to this day, I look at it and it's still surreal. That moment and that feeling as it all happened. It was like, 'Wow, what a storybook season.' "
Lawson may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2260.