Boise State loses Southwick, rallies for win over Nevada

ccripe@idahostatesman.comOctober 20, 2013 

The Boise State football team saw its on-field leader twice during Saturday’s comeback win against Nevada.

On the Broncos’ first play from scrimmage, senior quarterback Joe Southwick scrambled toward the sideline and broke his right ankle when he was dragged down from behind. It’s possible he will return this season, coach Chris Petersen said, but there is no timetable for that.

Southwick resurfaced near the end of the halftime break to address the team in the locker room. The Broncos trailed 17-7 — lacking execution and energy in a listless first half.

“He was great,” Petersen said. “He was really encouraging.”

The Broncos responded with a dominant second half — scoring 27 unanswered points for a 34-17 victory that put them in first place in the Mountain West’s Mountain Division (5-2 overall, 3-1 MW).

Junior backup quarterback Grant Hedrick completed 10-of-11 passes in the second half and became the first Broncos quarterback to rush for 100 yards (eight carries, 115 yards, two touchdowns) since Jared Zabransky in 2004.

Sophomore tailback Jay Ajayi rushed for 222 yards and three touchdowns — including 159 yards in the second half.

And the Broncos defense, which was steamrolled on three long scoring drives in the first half, limited the dynamic Wolf Pack offense to 127 yards after intermission.

The Broncos trailed by double digits at halftime for the first time since the 2007 Hawaii Bowl and overcame a double-digit halftime deficit for the first time since a 2005 game at Hawaii.

“The thing we did feel great about was the way the guys responded in the locker room,” Petersen said. “Everybody felt really bad for Joe. They picked up the energy.

“It’s probably as good a second half as we have had in a long, long time.”

It followed an exceedingly rare first-half occurrence — a flat Boise State team at Bronco Stadium.

Nevada marched 60 yards in 15 plays on the opening drive to take a 3-0 lead.

Southwick scrambled on Boise State’s first play. As he neared the left sideline, linebacker Jonathan McNeal tackled him for a 7-yard gain. Southwick appeared to go down awkwardly and did not get up for a few moments.

“That thing just kind of makes you sick to your stomach,” said Hedrick, who was 18-for-21 for 150 yards overall. “It just kills me inside. I know it did to our team. But then, that means the next guy has to step up. I’ve been preparing for this for four years.”

Southwick, who was 15-4 as the Broncos’ starting quarterback, sat on the trainer’s table on the sideline, then hopped on crutches to the Idaho Sports Medicine Institute in the corner of the stadium for evaluation. He was carted back to the locker room at the end of the first quarter, a towel draped over his head.

“It’s disconcerting,” Petersen said. “You feel different. That guy’s taken a lot of snaps for us. He knows what he’s doing. … I think it had us all in a daze a little bit.”

The Broncos had not lost a starting quarterback to an extended injury since Ryan Dinwiddie broke an ankle in 2002 at Arkansas. He missed the next four games — all wins, engineered by senior backup B.J. Rhode.

Still, Hedrick prepared every week the last two seasons like he was going to start. This was the first time, he noted, that he has played a full football game since his senior year of high school — in 2009.

“We see Grant make crazy plays at practice all the time,” said sophomore tailback Jay Ajayi, who rushed for 222 yards and three touchdowns and dedicated his performance to Southwick. “And when Joe went down, yeah, we were sad. At the same time, we knew Grant was coming in and without a doubt he’d make a lot of plays for our offense.”

The Broncos’ first three drives ended with an interception (a tipped pass) and two punts. Total yards: 62.

But Hedrick provided a spark on his fourth drive — a third-and-4 scramble up the middle for 49 yards, flashing the terrific speed that makes him a different weapon than Southwick. Ajayi scored two plays later to get the Broncos within 10-7.

“The first few series were kind of fast and then it started to slow down a little bit,” Hedrick said. “… (Running) is a big part of my game. My instincts.”

Said Ajayi: “When Grant did his 49-yard scramble on that drive, it kind of pumped me up. I thought, ‘Grant’s getting loose, I’ve got to get loose, too.’ ”

Ajayi certainly did that in the second half. He busted a 17-yard run that led to his own 4-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter.

And he broke free up the middle for a 71-yard touchdown run on the second drive, giving the Broncos their first lead — 20-17.

Then Hedrick got hot. Late in the third quarter, he hit a 14-yard pass to wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes, a 7-yarder to tight end Jake Hardee on third-and-7 and a 10-yarder to tight end Connor Peters on third-and-1. He finished the drive with a 20-yard run on the zone read.

He added a 14-yard TD run on the option in the fourth quarter.

“It give us confidence that we can still do some really good things,” Petersen said.

Meanwhile, the defense transformed itself from weak to stout. There were a couple of schematic tweaks, Petersen said, but mostly the adjustment was in attitude.

“We weren’t getting off blocks in the first half,” senior defensive end Kharyee Marshall said. “And then we regrouped and in the second half came out firing.”

The Broncos held the Wolf Pack to 3.2 yards per carry and recorded six sacks — four of them in the second half.

“I think they came out with more energy,” Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo said. “We thought they would come out flat and they definitely didn't. Their defensive line came in, they were really excited to be out there and they really did a number on us.”

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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