Boise State falls to San Diego State in overtime

ccripe@idahostatesman.comNovember 24, 2013 

SAN DIEGO — The threats were easy to spot when the Boise State football team’s season began.

Games at Washington, Fresno State, BYU and San Diego State — games that would test a young Broncos team and likely define their season. The Broncos have lost them all.

San Diego State wide receiver Colin Lockett caught a walk-off touchdown pass in overtime Saturday night at Qualcomm Stadium to give the Aztecs a 34-31 victory.

“It’s kind of heartbreaking because we had a lot of excitement about this year,” sophomore tailback Jay Ajayi said.

The Broncos fell to 7-4 overall, their most losses since 2005 and most regular-season losses since 2001, and 5-2 in the Mountain West, where they no longer control their destiny in the championship race.

The Mountain Division champion will play at West champion Fresno State on Dec. 7. Utah State (7-4, 6-1) can win the Mountain by beating Wyoming on Saturday in Logan. If the Aggies lose, the Broncos can clinch by beating New Mexico on Saturday night in Boise (8:15 p.m., ESPN2).

It could be a muted Senior Day celebration for a Broncos program that, barring a Utah State loss, will fail to win an outright conference championship for the fourth straight year. The Broncos claimed three-way splits of the WAC title in 2010 and the Mountain West title in 2012.

“It’s quiet,” Ajayi said of the locker room. “A lot of disappointment on a lot of people’s faces. We feel like we really should have won this game and kind of let each other down a little bit.”

The culprits were many in a game Boise State trailed 14-7 at halftime and led 21-14 going to the fourth quarter.

— The Broncos’ offense generated a season-low 297 yards, converted two of 16 third- and fourth-down tries, got shut out in the first half (fifth time in two seasons) and settled for a field goal on the opening drive of overtime. Ajayi accounted for 158 — more than half — of the yards.

“(The Aztecs) were just creating chaos out there,” said junior quarterback Grant Hedrick, who is 1-2 on the road as the starter. “A lot of confusion up front. They were bringing guys everywhere — a lot of pressure. I’ll take my hat off to them. They played a really good game and they’re tough and they do a lot of different things we haven’t seen before. Once we kind of settled down a little bit … it was kind of late, but we finally got things going.”

— Hedrick was 21-for-35 for 202 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions and four sacks. He rushed six times for 11 yards, excluding sacks.

Most importantly, he threw an ugly pick six on third-and-6 from his own 8-yard line in the fourth quarter.

“He struggled,” coach Chris Petersen said.

Senior starter Joe Southwick was in uniform for the first time since he broke his right ankle Oct. 19 but Petersen was non-committal about whether he was the backup. He said he didn’t consider pulling Hedrick.

“We’ve got to let him try to get in a groove,” Petersen said.

— The special teams, which sparked the Broncos in the first three quarters with a kickoff return for a touchdown (a 100-yarder by Bryan Douglas in the first quarter), a muffed punt recovery (cornerback Mercy Maston) and a fumble recovery in kickoff coverage (forced by safety Dillon Lukehart and recovered by safety Taylor Loffler), collapsed in the fourth. Senior Trevor Harman’s poor punt from his own end zone was returned 41 yards for the game-tying touchdown with 4:04 left in the game.

Then junior kicker Dan Goodale, who had made 12 straight field goals, lined up for his first game-winning attempt since missing badly against TCU in 2011. He hooked this one, a 43-yarder, on the last play of regulation.

“I thought he was going to drill it,” Hedrick said. “Nine times out of 10, he’s going to make it.”

— And the defense, which didn’t allow a point in the last 40 minutes of regulation, couldn’t answer when the Broncos needed to keep the Aztecs out of the end zone in overtime.

On third-and-4 at the Boise State 19-yard line, tailback Adam Muema (24 carries, 46 yards) broke a 9-yard run.

Two plays later, quarterback Quinn Kaehler fired to the front, right corner of the end zone. Lockett made the catch in front of cornerback Mercy Maston. Petersen said his defense played well enough to win; the other two phases did not.

“The defense and the offense have struggled every other game it feels like,” said senior defensive tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, who led the team with nine tackles and a sack. “We need to prepare better and finish stronger. I feel like we were right there. If we just finish a little bit better, then we would have won.”

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398,

Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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