Bowl Countdown: 2004 Liberty Bowl
Dec. 12, 2015

BOISE, Idaho - Boise State's matchup against Northern Illinois at the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 23 will mark the program's 14th-straight bowl appearance. In the lead up to the contest, BroncoSports.com will look back at the Broncos' 13 bowl games since the start of this streak in 2002.

Today's featured contest is a look back at the 2004 AutoZone Liberty Bowl, in which No. 10 Boise State, 11-0 entering the game, had its opportunity for its first unbeaten FBS season stopped with a 44-40 loss to No. 8 Louisville on New Year's Eve. The defeat was Boise State's first in a FBS bowl game and snapped a five-game winning streak in such contests.

Louisville snapped Boise State’s 22-game winning streak, the nation’s longest at the time, in the highest-scoring game in Liberty Bowl history. The Cardinals (11-1) won their third Liberty Bowl by handing the Broncos (11-1) their first loss since September 2003.

Eric Shelton scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard run with 6:48 left. The Broncos had one last chance to win after Art Carmody’s 19-yard field goal with 1:10 left put Louisville ahead by four. Quarterback Jared Zabransky drove the Broncos to the Louisville 30 before his final pass into the end zone was intercepted by Louisville safety Kerry Rhodes as time expired.

Everyone expected a high-scoring game in a bowl pairing the nation’s top two offenses. The teams didn’t disappoint as they swapped the lead five times. The 84 combined points topped the 80 points by Colorado and Alabama in 1969 and was one of a handful of Liberty Bowl records set.

Louisville won only for the second time in seven bowls despite a season-high four turnovers. The Cardinals rolled up 564 yards, topping 500 yards for the ninth time that season.

This was the biggest game in school history for Boise State, a program that moved up to Division I-A (now FBS) in 1996. The Broncos, who played their first three bowls on the blue turf of Bronco Stadium, thought they could keep up with the only offense it had trailed in 2004 for most yards and points in the country.

But the Broncos, who lost 12 starters from their 2003 squad, finished with 284 yards offense, well below their 511.6-yard average.

Boise State kicker Tyler Jones had a record 48-yard field goal on the Broncos’ first drive, and Bronco linebacker Andy Avalos had a 92-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter that bested the previous Liberty Bowl-record 79-yarder by Michael Jordan of Tulane in 1998.

Boise State led by as much as 34-21 early in the third quarter after scoring 24 straight points.

The Cardinals settled down in the second half as quarterback Stefan LeFors drove them 81 yards in eight plays, capping it with a 14-yard TD toss to J.R. Russell. LeFors then gave Louisville the lead at 35-34 when he ran in from a yard out with 2:17 left in the third.

Boise State’s last lead was at 40-35 when Jon Helmandollar plunged in from 2 yards with 10:51 left. The Broncos went for the two-point conversion to try and extend the lead to seven, but Zabransky's pass fell incomplete.

Zabransky finished the game completing 14-of-29 passes for 199 yards and one touchdown for the Broncos. T.J. Acree was Boise State’s top receiver with four catches for 57 yards and one score, while Lee Marks led the Broncos rushing attack with 66 yards on 15 carries.


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