Fales completed 33 of 43 passes for a bowl-record 395 yards and two touchdowns. He led the Spartans to 10 unanswered points down the stretch to close out the comeback victory.
Freshman Austin Lopez’s 27-yard field goal with 4 minutes 43 seconds left provided the go-ahead score as San Jose State posted 11 victories for the first time since 1940.
“I’m kind of lucky,” said Fales, who completed 72 percent of his passes during the regular season and ranked third in the nation in pass efficiency. “I’m reaping the benefits, getting here at a time when . . . all the veterans who have been here have gone through the hard times. . . . Getting this for them, I’m just so excited.”
For the players, the excitement of the program’s first bowl trip since 2006 provided a welcome break from a trying month. In recent weeks, Coach Mike MacIntyre accepted the job at Colorado and was replaced by San Diego University Coach Ron Caragher.
Meantime, the team prepared for the Falcons under Kent Baer, the defensive coordinator-turned-interim coach.
The Spartans (11-2) didn’t come out particularly sharp on a chilly afternoon but found their stride in the second half.
“Oh my goodness,” said Baer, who is expected to join MacIntyre on the staff at Colorado. “I’ve been in the business a long time at a lot of great places, but I honestly say this is in my top two of all-time seasons.”
After Bowling Green (8-5) went ahead 20-19 on senior John Pettigrew’s one-yard touchdown run with 10:26 left in the fourth quarter, San Jose State moved 68 yards in 13 plays, chewing almost six minutes off the clock with Fales picking apart the defense. Fales, who completed 10 straight in the first half, went 7 of 10 on that drive to move the team into scoring range.
“That’s the best passing offense we’ve faced all year,” Bowling Green Coach Dave Clawson said. “Even when we held them down, he was still completing balls.”
The drive stalled after a botched end-around play, bringing out Lopez, who had made the first 16 field goals of his career.
He calmly made the 27-yard attempt from the left hash mark to put the Spartans in front, 22-20.
And Bowling Green didn’t muster an answer. Two plays after the field goal, San Jose State senior Travis Johnson forced a fumble and junior Keith Smith fell on the football at the Bowling Green 23-yard line.
Senior running back De’Leon Eskridge punched in a one-yard run to make it a two-score game with less than two minutes left, sealing a comeback jump-started by its quarterback.
“He’s the best I’ve been around,” Baer said of Fales, “and he’s got a heck of a future.”