An up-and-coming underclassman stepping into a key role made the play of the night for the Boise State defense Saturday night.
Sophomore cornerback Tyler Horton — entering his first year as a full-time starter — chalked up his first big-time play on the Blue, halting Washington State’s promising opening drive and racing 85 yards for a pick-six that put the Broncos ahead for good in their 31-28 victory.
It was the first interception of Horton’s college career, and the first turnover created by the Boise State defense in 2016.
“I had a lot going through my mind ... when the ball came, it was like ‘OK, now it’s time to go make a play,’” Horton said.
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The pick came as the Cougars were marching downfield on the game’s opening drive, using a methodical short passing attack to advance to the Boise State 23.
On third-and-9, Washington State quarterback Luke Falk fired a pass intended for Robert Lewis along the sideline.
The pass never got there.
Horton read the route perfectly and pounced, plucking the ball out of Lewis’ reach. The speedy sophomore out of Fresno, Calif., tiptoed along the sideline, managing to stay in bounds as he shed a tackler. He then made a nifty cut-back, picked up a convoy of blockers, and sprinted down the sideline to record Boise State’s longest interception return since Jamar Taylor’s 100-yard pick-six of Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler in the 2011 Las Vegas Bowl.
“I saw some of my D-linemen in front of me waving me on in,” Horton said.
Making his first interception was a moment Horton had been looking forward to.
“I’ve definitely been thinking about it,” Horton said during spring practices. “When I get that opportunity to get it, I’m going to take advantage.”
Horton’s playmaking ability has stood out since he arrived on campus. He was one of three true freshmen to earn playing time last season, and he consistently earned praise from head coach Bryan Harsin and cornerbacks coach Ashley Ambrose during spring practice and fall camp. He worked hard to learn the defensive playbook and add weight to his 5-foot-11 frame, and he has been rewarded with the starting corner spot opposite senior Jonathan Moxey.
On Saturday, Horton held up well against Washington State’s high-scoring, pass-happy offense, which saw Falk rack up 480 yards on 71 attempts. Horton often played in man-to-man coverage on the field side, and he added five tackles to his big interception return.
It wasn’t a spotless effort — Horton did lose a jump ball to Tavares Martin Jr. on a 50-yard, third-quarter touchdown — but with Boise State looking to replace the production of longtime standouts Darian Thompson and Donte Deayon in the defensive backfield, Horton’s breakout play was an encouraging sign at a position of need.
“It was awesome,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “I saw the pick, I was already fired up about it, then he breaks a tackle ... he goes out there and makes play on the ball in practice and in games all the time, and he got one.
“That, in a tight game, where the offense struggled a little bit tonight, certainly you look at the score, probably the key play in the game right there early on.”