SAN JOSE -- Attention holiday shoppers: You missed a dandy Friday afternoon sale on touchdowns, madness, shattered records, upset football and onside kicks. That is, unless you happened to be here at Spartan Stadium.
Chandler Jones was. He was playing wide receiver for San Jose State against 16th-ranked Fresno State. And during the first half, as each team's quarterback was throwing six touchdown passes (yes, six touchdown passes), Jones was doing his own personal play-by-play broadcast.
"I was walking around going, 'This is a show right now, this is crazy!' " Jones said.
Crazy good for San Jose State, as it turned out. The Spartans took a 42-41 lead after that wild first half, then rode out some more nuttiness in the second half to finish off a 62-52 victory that should send them to their second consecutive bowl game.
"That was one of the big things for us -- we wanted another 15 days of practice together," said linebacker Keith Smith.
If their practices are as much fun as Friday's contest, you can see why.
The Spartans are frequently an afterthought in Bay Area college football circles compared with Stanford and Cal, largely because over the past dozen years, San Jose State has had zero exciting home victories over top-tier opponents. That changed Friday. Fresno State was undefeated and bearing down on a bid to a prestigious BCS bowl, the college game's version of reaching the "Dancing With the Stars" finals.
San Jose State stopped the BCS music for the Bulldogs. It was easily the Spartans' biggest victory since a 27-24 upset of ninth-ranked TCU (and star running back LaDainian Tomlinson) during the 2000 season. Yet in terms of entertainment value, it would be difficult to top Friday.
"I think every light in the scoreboard was lit up in that first half," said San Jose State coach Ron Caragher.
Lit up? Or burned out and ready to surrender?
Given that both teams featured future potential NFL quarterbacks, an offensive-minded afternoon was expected. But this was ridiculous. It felt more like tennis than football. First, David Fales of San Jose State would serve up a brilliant touchdown pass. Then, Derek Carr of Fresno State would return serve with a stunning TD throw of his own.
By halftime, Fales had accumulated 451 passing yards, and Carr had 354 yards to go along with their 12 combined touchdowns. The spectacle led to Caragher making a key move at the start of the third quarter. San Jose State was scheduled to kick off. But with nearly every offensive possession to that point leading to a touchdown, Caragher elected to have the Spartans attempt an onside kick.
Well, why not? Harrison Waid, a senior from Fremont High in Sunnyvale, executed it perfectly -- and even recovered the ball himself at midfield. Afterward, Caragher said he got the idea from assistant coach Terry Malley, who once served as general manager of the San Jose Sabercats in the point-besotted Arena Football League, where the strategy was frequently employed.
"Terry just mentioned it to me," Caragher explained, "and I said we should just do it. That got us ahead in the possession meter."
The kick recovery would matter, however, only if Fales could take advantage by driving the Spartans to another score. Fales did, completing three passes en route to a touchdown run by Thomas Tucker that gave San Jose State a 49-41 lead.
"It wasn't pressure to score on that drive," Fales insisted. "We had to score on every drive."
Which the Spartans proceeded to do the rest of the way, except on the game's final drive, when they were merely running out the clock. It helped that the San Jose State defense gained confidence with a third-down stop and a leaping interception by Smith.
"Those two extra possessions from the onside kick and interception might have been the difference," Caragher said.
Carr and Fresno State did not go quietly, though, mounting a comeback that fizzled only when San Jose State recovered a Bulldogs' onside kick with 2:03 remaining. It sounds odd that in a 62-52 game, two of the biggest plays might have been onside kicks. But this was that sort of day.
The result was especially sweet to Spartan players who, as is oft the case, had to cope with a stadium half filled with Fresno State supporters (Smith even said it was "fun to play in a hostile environment.") San Jose State players also seethed when the team's Senior Day pregame ceremonies were interrupted by the Bulldogs running onto the field -- although school officials said this was the result of the ceremonies running behind schedule and television wanting to hustle along the opening kickoff.
Regardless, the Spartans should now have at least one more of those kickoffs this season. No guarantee, however. After Saturday's games, the Mountain West Conference might have more bowl-eligible teams than bowl slots. But according to Jones, the Spartans ought to be a prime attraction.
"You've got David Fales out there slinging the ball," the wide receiver said. "You also have David Fales and you have ... David Fales."
True. But in the bowl racket, it always comes down to money and politics, not aesthetics. San Jose State's low season ticket base and lesser fan following will count against it -- but as a plus, the Spartans should have an ace in the political hole with at least one postseason game.
Gene Bleymaier, the SJSU athletic director, held the same job at Boise State for almost 30 years before moving to the South Bay in 2011. He surely possesses contacts with the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl organizers who stage their game Dec. 21 in Boise. Fales, for his part, is counting on suiting up again for workouts.
"That's the best time to practice," Fales said. "During the holidays."
Friday wasn't holiday enough?