Friday, December 13, 2002
Battle of Drews won in a Brees
By Marc Connolly
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Face it. It's already been a baffling college football season, as countless teams (Alabama), so-called stars (LaMont Jordan) and matchups (Oklahoma-Texas) failed to live up to their hype. But that certainly was not the case in the much-heralded Drew Bowl, which emphatically lived up to its billing on Saturday.
It may not have been a man-on-man duel like Ali-Frazier, Bird-Dominique or Sampras-Agassi, but it arguably became the closest same-name competition on record since Kramer vs. Kramer.
Only for Purdue, though, it came out just how they Drew it up -- well, so to speak.
"This is the way I drew it up in a dream," Drew Brees, who looked every bit like the Heisman Trophy candidate he is, tossing for 286 yards and two touchdowns on 32-for-44 passing.
The senior quarterback was talking more about being paraded off a field that his classmates mobbed with his gold helmet raised in triumph than the manner in which his Boilermakers upset No. 6 Michigan 32-31 amid a 42-degree day in front of 68,340 parka-wearing fans at Ross-Ade Stadium.
Never did his dream include moments that would make the first Saturday of October 2000 the day to mark down when Drew Henson truly lived-up to the impossible expectations bestowed upon the nation's top prep quarterback from three seasons ago. Never did it mention that his defense would have to hold a powerful Wolverine strikeforce to a mere field goal in the second half after allowing four touchdowns on four 80-yard-plus drives in an explosive 30 minutes.
Though Henson, a six-month QB, brought Michigan fans back to the days of Jim Harbaugh at times during his three-touchdown performance, it was his elder who won this game -- not Travis Dorsch who hit the 34-yard field goal with four seconds left.
"He was outstanding. He played like he was capable of playing," was all that a disappointed Lloyd Carr could say.
"He's their leader and everyone knows that," said Henson, who chased Brees down after the game to congratulate him. "He put the ball where he needed it to be and that's why he's a great quarterback."
Yes, he did put the ball where it needed to be for the overwhelming majority of the contest -- nothing less than perfection would have been enough in the first half with Henson and his crew storming up and down the field like the St. Louis Rams. Though Brees was 6-for-9 for 58 yards in the first drive of the game, A.T. Simpson's dropped touchdown pass in the back of the end zone forced Purdue to settle for Dorsch's 24-yard field goal.
The Boilermakers only touched the ball two more times in the half. One resulted in a Todd Howard interception in the end zone on a poorly thrown ball to Seth Morales, and the other was an impressive 80-yard drive capped by a 25-yard TD pass to Vinny Sutherland. But Henson's first half exploits -- 194 yards on 19-for-23 passing -- stole Brees' thunder as Michigan took a 28-10 lead into the locker room.
That's when three years of being The Man in the Big Ten paid off.
"There was no doubt in my mind at halftime," said Brees, who passed Chuck Long of Iowa as the Big Ten's all-time leader in touchdown passes (76). "You never give up no matter what the score is."
That sort of line isn't just an attitude a Pop Warner coach tries to instill in you. It's one that comes after throwing for nearly 10,000 yards at the highest level of college football. It spills over to the guys listening to him in the huddle too.
"We have complete confidence when Drew has the ball in his hands," said Tim Stratton, who caught nine balls for 68 yards on an afternoon that he believes was his quarterback's best performance ever. "He's going to put the ball where it needs to be. He makes the right read. I haven't seen him make the wrong read in a long time -- knock on wood."
He certainly didn't in the second half. He couldn't. There was no room for error.
In the third quarter, while the defense was mounting a heroic comeback of its own, Brees marched the Boilermakers down the field and into the end zone on both of their possessions. With 5:10 left in the final quarter, his 10-yard strike to John Standeford brought Purdue within two points, 31-29. At that moment, he knew he'd get another shot at the disturbed Michigan D, but never did he think he'd have to drive the team into the red zone two more times for a measly three points.
So after Dorsch missed from 32 yards out with 2:11 remaining in the game, Brees had one thing in mind: Two-minute drill.
Though he has failed in this situation, as recently as last week against Penn State, it's why he plays the game.
"He loves being in the two-minute," said Tiller. "It's the part of practice he gets excited for. Same with the game."
After a game-saving stand at the Michigan 19, Brees and Co. got the ball back at their own 41 with 1:41 left and everyone's Rose Bowl dreams in the balance.
"I just wanted to give Travis a chance," said Brees, after finally winning his first game in seven chances against the Big Ten titans of Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan. "When we get in the two-minute drill, we get a new frame of mind."
That zone, if you will, produced something out of a Joe Montana highlight reel (well, except for a 10-yard scramble to open the drive). Brees strung together four consecutive completions -- the last to Sutherland, who accounted for 127 yards on 11 receptions -- to get Dorsch within field goal range so he could deliver the final dagger in an astounding all-around exhibition of emotional play in the second half.
"To be down 18 and do something like that is awesome," said Brees, while he shouted over the noise created by the frenzy of screams on the field.
Moments later, he stepped off his perch, finally got to see his family, and met his girlfriend's kiss with an "I love you." Then, just out of a scene from Everybody's All-American, the Heisman candidate strode arm in arm through a sea of admirers, classmates and adoring kids who crowded a 100-yard long path between the stadium and the team locker room.
He looked joyous. He looked satisfied. More than anything, after playing in a game that he dubbed as the most important in his storybook four-year career, he looked relieved.
"It's about time one went our way."
Marc Connolly is a senior writer for ABC Sports Online.
|Fans storm the field after Drew Brees directed a Boilermaker comeback over No. 6 Michigan.|