After all the buildup to the game, I actually began my first start by moving us backwards five yards.
With nine months to prepare for our first play of the season, we actually started the game with a delay of game penalty. But just like our journey with God, sports isn’t about how you start - it’s about how you finish. We started to drive down the field, and actually got to the CSU 4-yard before the drive appeared to stall. On most opening drives, teams would take the 3 points to get an early lead. But that’s not what Rolo wanted.
We had over a million people back home who needed inspiration, and we were there to win. So Coach rolled the dice and called for me to fire a pass to John Ursua up the middle. John pulled it in, and just like that we were up 7-0.
Even after CSU responded with a touchdown to tie it up, our offense was just getting started. We came back with a field goal to go up 10-7, and then after our defense came up with an interception, we started to drive again. We had a 1st & 10 at the Rams 12-yard line when I got the call for me to take the snap and run. A lot of coaches don’t want their quarterback running outside the pocket, but Nick Rolovich isn’t that kind of coach. And I’m not that kind of quarterback.
Sure enough, it was the perfect call, and I made it to the 2-yard line before three defenders came running at me. But I found just enough space to dive between them for the touchdown. Now it was 16-7, and we were just getting started. With 31 seconds left in the half and our offense at the CSU-five yard line, I got the call for another run play. This time there was nobody even close to me, and I ran in untouched for the 23-7 lead.
By the time I hit Cedric Byrd for a wide-open 45-yard score, we were up 37-7...the team that had come in as 17.5 point underdogs was blowing the game open.
The special helmets were supposed to just be for one game, but our players unanimously wanted to keep them around. And so with each passing week with the islands on our helmets, we continued to flourish. We were supposed to lose to Navy the next week, and beat them 59-41. We then beat Rice 43-29, and then after our first loss of the season to Army, we came right back and beat Duquesne 42-21.
Our next game, against San Jose State, was probably the best game of all. And the most painful.
On one particular play in the first quarter, I probably took the hardest hit I’ve ever experienced in my life. As I was scrambling for a first down, I was hit by two guys who were coming at me from different directions. I immediately went down, and when I tried to get up, I could tell I had tunnel vision. In fact, one of the guys who hit me was injured too, and as the referees called for a tv timeout, I went over to coach Rolo.
“Hey coach, do not give me the ball,” I said. “Let me hand the ball off or an easy throw because I’m in pain right now.”
The problem was we still had more than three quarters to go, and I couldn’t just hand the ball off the rest of the game. So I continued to play through the pain. The only thing was that this game didn’t last four quarters.
This game lasted 5 OTs - which was tied for the 5th longest game in the history of college football. I could feel the pain in every step I took and every throw I made, but I hung in there. So did our team.
We scored a touchdown to start overtime, only to see SJSU come back with a touchdown of their own to force a second OT. We then traded punch for punch, stop for stop, field goal for field goal, for three more overtimes. And then in the 5th OT we showed what Warriors are all about. We had to settle for a field goal to go up 44-41, and at that point our team would have been happy if we could force a 6th OT. San Jose State was starting from our 25-yard line with a chance to win the game, but our defense held strong.
Instead of giving up any ground, they actually pushed the Spartans back five yards to force a 47-yard kick. I watched from the sideline as the kick sailed wide right, and in that moment the pain didn’t seem so bad. The team who was expected to finish 5th out of 6 teams in our division was now 5-1, and a week later would become 6-1.
And I say this not to brag, but to show God’s glory...the same quarterback who couldn’t find any offers to play D1 football was now leading the country in passing. With all credit going to God, through the first six games I had thrown for 2,100 yards and 24 touchdowns with just two interceptions.
But as I soon found out, God has a way of keeping us humble.