FRESNO, Calif. - In what could turn out the highest-scoring games of the 2013 college football season, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights came up just short in a heartbreaking 52-51 overtime loss against Fresno State on Thursday night.
Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood said the Bulldogs deserve credit for making one more play than Rutgers did.
"We knew coming out here that Fresno State had a good team and a hostile environment to play in," Flood said. "Both of those things showed up tonight and it was a great atmosphere for college football."
Most of the game was a see-saw battle where neither team could maintain any momentum. Each team scored touchdowns in the final two minutes of regulation, before Rutgers kicker Kyle Federico missed a game winning 43-yard field goal attempt.
Then came overtime.
Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr got the first crack and with his first pass found wide receiver Greg Watson for a 25-yard touchdown strike. Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova then took all of two plays to connect on a 4-yard waggle to junior Brandon Coleman for a touchdown.
Flood then made the call of the night, among many gutsy calls he made during the game. Flood chose to take his chances and went for two points. But Nova's pass attempt fell just out of Coleman's reach and the conversion failed, ending the game in a heartbreaking 52-51 loss.
Flood said he thought it was great opportunity to win the game in the unfriendly confines of Bulldog Stadium and it was a decision his staff made at the beginning of the drive.
"Ultimately I'll be judged by these decisions, but I don't regret it," Flood said. "I told the players I would do it again if I had the opportunity. We had already made a 2-point play. The ball was in the hands of two of our better players. The pass just went a little wide."
Knowing the coach's confidence, Nova said he knew the Scarlet Knights would be going for two in that situation.
"I was ready for it," Nova said. "The coaches trusted us. I have to make that play for my team. I didn't make it today, but it was real close."
Nova dueled all night with Carr, in a game that saw the two lead their teams to a combined total of 1,094 yards of offense. For the game Nova threw for 348 yards, with five touchdown passes and one interception. His most spectacular play came at the start of the second quarter, hitting wide receiver Leonte Carroo with a 69-yard bomb.
Nova said the offense should be encouraged with the way they played, but the mistakes that were made need to be cleaned up before next week.
"We just have to keep our heads up," Nova said. "As a leader on this team I don't have time to be disappointed or anything like that. We have to move on and get ready for next week. It's a long season ahead of us and we're still in shape to achieve our goals."
Carroo finished with four catches, for 124 yards and three touchdowns. Coleman added 10 receptions, 105 yards and two touchdowns.
But the breakout performer of the game for Rutgers was sophomore running back Paul James. He didn't get a carry until the second quarter, but finished with 182 yards on 22 carries, with 164 of those yards coming in the third quarter alone. James broke free on two monster runs of 64 and 56 yards.
James said he was happy to get his chance, but that as a team Rutgers didn't finish well.
"We needed to make more plays as a whole team, we have to execute," James said. "You have to execute every play, because it can come down to the last play. Every play matters."
The Scarlet Knights will regroup before they face off against Norfolk State at 12 p.m. next Saturday at home in High Point Solutions Stadium.