FRESNO, Calif. — Finally, a thriller.
The Boise State and Fresno State football teams rivals since their epic 2001 encounter electrified a sellout crowd at Bulldog Stadium and a national-TV audience on ESPN on Friday night.
Fresno State won 41-40 in a game that featured one twist after another, including two turnovers, a fake punt, two long kickoff returns, a pooch-kickoff recovery and three two-point conversion tries all by Boise State.
The Broncos scored 21 consecutive points to erase a 34-19 deficit late in the third quarter but still couldnt overcome the Bulldogs offensive firepower.
Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr was 39-of-60 for 460 yards and four touchdowns.
We made too many errors, Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. Just across the board. We can point the finger a lot of different directions. When youre playing a good team, you cant make those types of errors.
You cant just play hard. You have to be able to execute.
The Broncos took a 40-34 lead with 7 minutes, 4 seconds remaining. The Bulldogs wiped out that lead the Broncos first of the night with a 13-play, 87-yard touchdown drive that made it 41-40 with 2:14 to play.
Boise State took over at its own 31-yard line and drove to the Fresno State 49. On fourth-and-6, against a blitz, senior quarterback Joe Southwick made a quick throw to senior wide receiver Kirby Moore. Defender Jonathan Norton arrived shortly after the football and Moore wasnt able to hang on for the first down.
Joe gave me a chance and Ive got to come down with that one, Moore said. Its on me.
The play ended a frantic comeback by the Broncos, who outgained the Bulldogs 561-522 and ran 100 plays. Southwick, who shook off a shoulder injury in the first half and admitted after the game he was hurting, was 31-of-45 for 313 yards with a costly interception. Wide receiver Matt Miller and Moore each made nine catches. True freshman tailback Aaron Baltazar rushed 18 times for 92 yards and two touchdowns, replacing Jay Ajayi after the starters second lost fumble in the red zone in as many games.
The comeback included a 58-yard kickoff return by junior wide receiver Dallas Burroughs to set up a Baltazar TD, an 89-yard touchdown drive, a pooch kickoff recovered by true freshman linebacker Tanner Vallejo and a 28-yard scramble by Southwick that set up his own TD sneak.
I think the most impressive thing is there wasnt really any panic, Southwick said. We just stuck to what we were doing. We got a few plays and we got back in it. Really proud of us getting back into this game tonight and giving us an opportunity. It was fun. We were that close.
The Broncos made three key mistakes with the ball.
On first-and-10 at the Fresno State 29 in the second quarter, trailing 17-16, Southwick rolled to his right and flipped a pass right to safety Derron Smith.
That was bad, Southwick said. That was my fault. This game came down to a couple plays and turnovers are what made the difference.
Ajayi joined him in the turnover column in the third quarter, when the Broncos were down by 12 and driving. Ajayi ran up the middle on fourth-and-1 at the Fresno State 15 picking up the first down, until the ball came out. The Bulldogs recovered and drove for a field goal that made it 34-19.
Ajayi, whose earlier touchdown gave him seven in the past three games, didnt get another carry.
You have to be able to hang onto the ball, you have to be able to not throw easy interceptions, Petersen said. We tighten some of those things up, we might have a chance down the road.
The third big mistake: The Broncos tried their swinging-gate PAT play in the first half. Miller, the holder, ran a keeper up the middle but was stopped short of the goal line. The Broncos ran two more two-point conversions in the second half, trying to get that point back, and only succeeded once. If they had kicked three PATs, the game might have gone to overtime. If Miller had scored, the Bulldogs would have needed a two-pointer on their last touchdown to tie.
It was wide open, Petersen said of Millers run. We just have to execute.
Defensively, the mistakes were more widespread. The Broncos defensive backs couldnt handle the quickness and precision of the Fresno State passing attack and Carr was sacked just once. The Bulldogs converted 10 third or fourth downs in 19 tries.
We have to play better pass defense, theres no question about it, Petersen said. (Carr) is very good and he has some good receivers to go with that package, so credit to those guys. But we can play better than that.
Said defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski: It was in our hands. If we could have just got a stop and got the ball back for our offense, they could have had a chance to just run out the clock. Its disappointing.
The Broncos fell to 2-2 overall and 1-1 in the Mountain West. Its the first time since 2005 the year before Petersen became the head coach that theyve lost two games before November. Its also the first time since 2005 that theyve lost to Fresno State, ending a seven-year streak riddled with blowouts.
The Broncos will be back in Bronco Stadium on Sept. 28 to play Southern Miss, then take a week off before a critical Mountain West game at Utah State.
Weve got the toughest schedule weve had since Ive been here, Petersen said. Were young. Well keep fighting. Well keep improving.
The Bulldogs improved to 3-0 and entered the running for a Bowl Championship Series berth with the breakthrough win against their rivals.
Carr is the younger brother of David Carr, the quarterback of the No. 8 Bulldogs team that lost to Boise State in 2001.
From that moment on, I wanted to come here and win games and beat them, Carr said. It took all the way to my redshirt senior year. We may see them again, that's the plan, but what a great team. You can tell in their character. They fought the whole game."
The Broncos hope to see the Bulldogs again, too in the Mountain West championship game Dec. 7. Boise State might need to win its six remaining conference games to get there.
I have no doubt Coach Pete will get us back to work he already touched on it, Southwick said. This team will bounce back. I know they will. Its far from over. It sucks to be 2-2 right now, but this is far from over.
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398; Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat