Boise State routs New Mexico, but MW title game out of the picture

ccripe@idahostatesman.comDecember 1, 2013 

It was a night to celebrate 16 seniors on their way out of the Boise State football program.

Inadvertently, it became a night to glimpse the future.

Sophomore tailback Jay Ajayi and junior wide receiver Matt Miller — likely the cornerstones of the 2014 Broncos — dominated the offensive action and a young but improving defense provided its signature moment of the season, a goal-line stand, on Saturday night at Bronco Stadium.

The Broncos concluded the regular season with a 45-17 defeat of the New Mexico Lobos. They’ll miss the first Mountain West championship game and await word on their bowl destination.

“It was a great performance from everybody, from the offense to the defense,” senior defensive tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe said. “It’s great to win in the last game on the Blue. It was all about that — just get that win and finish it off right. It hasn’t been as good (of a season) as we wanted it to be, but that’s what we needed to do.”

Boise State finished 6-0 at home, a first since 2010.

But the Broncos also concluded the regular season at 8-4 overall and 6-2 in the Mountain West — their worst regular season since 2001.

“It’s motivating,” coach Chris Petersen said of the subpar season. “The seniors spoke to the team (Friday) night. It was the first time we really even spoke about our record, but they all kind of did. ‘We need to remember this’ and ‘this isn’t how we wanted it to feel.’ It was good for those guys to hear that.”

The game’s top “senior moment” came on the opening drive. Senior quarterback Joe Southwick started the game but was only allowed one series as he continues his recovery from a broken right ankle.

Southwick, who had missed four starts since getting injured Oct. 19, tossed a swing pass to Ajayi for a 64-yard gain on the second play. He threw a 1-yard touchdown strike to Miller on the third.

It was just the second time this season that Boise State scored on its opening drive.

“It was great because it worked out good for him,” Petersen said. “It wasn’t a three-and-out. It was a (three)-and-out — in a good way.”

The Broncos’ defense — the group that struggled most of the season and has stepped up the past three weeks (six total touchdowns allowed) — stole the spotlight for the rest of the first half.

The Lobos, trailing 14-7, drove to the Broncos’ 2-yard line early in the second quarter. Tailback Crusoe Gongbay ran up the middle on three straight plays and hit a wall of blue — getting 1 yard, no gain and no gain.

On fourth-and-goal at the 1, quarterback Clayton Mitchem ran a keeper around the left end. Sophomore safety Darian Thompson met him at the line of scrimmage and dragged him to the ground just before Mitchem reached the ball across the goal line.

“Darian made a great play on that,” junior linebacker Corey Bell said. “He came down and made a solo tackle with a lot of space in there. … He made a play and we got him by like this (holds fingers 3 inches apart).”

The offense responded with a 99-yard touchdown drive that made it 21-7 and took any suspense out of the game.

Ajayi gained 66 yards on the drive, including a 29-yard scamper on a swing pass on third-and-14 for the touchdown.

The Lobos pulled within 21-10 on the opening drive of the second half but Ajayi scored on an 18-yard run in the third quarter and Miller caught touchdown passes of 24 (on fourth-and-5) and 13 yards in the fourth.

Ajayi finished with 147 rushing yards, 105 receiving yards and two touchdowns — the fourth player in school history to hit the century mark in both categories in a single game. Miller made nine catches for 111 yards and three TDs.

Combined, they accounted for 84 percent of the Broncos’ offensive yards. They combined for 80 percent in the previous game at San Diego State.

“Matt is an essential part of this offense,” Ajayi said. “He makes those big-boy plays. For me, I just want to help my team win no matter what. Whatever opportunity I get, I just want to make sure I take advantage.”

The Ajayi/Miller emphasis is by design.

Miller made 30 catches for 430 yards and nine touchdowns in four November games.

Ajayi contributed 574 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns.

“We’ve been trying to get the ball to our playmakers,” coach Chris Petersen said. “(Ajayi) and Matt Miller are the guys who have been making plays, so they’re going to get the ball.”

Still, those two stars weren’t enough to propel the Broncos to the Mountain West championship game. They were eliminated when Utah State beat Wyoming earlier Saturday to clinch the Mountain Division title.

“We had our chances weeks back (against Fresno State) and last week (against San Diego State) and didn’t get it done,” Petersen said. “That’s on us.”

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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