“You’re the one that had the game-winning touchdown?” the showgirl asked the running back before she gave him a peck on the cheek.
No, this isn’t part of a dime-store novel. It’s the surreal situation in which Boise State senior Ryan Wolpin found himself Wednesday.
An Elvis impersonator and his aforementioned female companion were in town to honor the Broncos’ upcoming matchup with Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl.
“I’ll have to explain it to my girlfriend,” Wolpin said, with lipstick on the left side of his face.
That’s about the only time you will find the 5-foot-8, 195-pound back flustered.
He was tied with sophomore Alexander Mattison for the team lead the first month of the season with 40 carries before Mattison found his confidence and snatched the workhorse role. But Wolpin, a former walk-on, never sulked.
Mattison went down with an injury in the third quarter of Saturday’s Mountain West championship game, and Wolpin made sure there was no drop-off. Eight of his 11 carries, and 41 of his 50 yards, came in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead score with 4:42 to play.
“He’s been our hardest worker for the last three years I’ve been here. … The guy brings it every single day. He’s only got one speed,” junior quarterback Brett Rypien said.
Said Wolpin: “Regardless of when it happened, I was ready for the opportunity to step up.”
When Mattison was being helped off the field following what appeared to be a left ankle injury, Wolpin spoke briefly with him, and following the game, the two shared a big hug as the team celebrated the 17-14 win over Fresno State.
“I grabbed him and said, ‘You’re going to be fine,’ and that I had his back,” Wolpin said. “After, it was an emotional moment for me and an emotional moment for him.
“I’m always ready to step up for him and he’s always ready to step up for me.”
That could very well be the case again against Oregon on Dec. 16, as Mattison deals with the injury. Mattison has sported a boot, crutches and a scooter in the days since the championship game.
It would be an interesting coda to Wolpin’s career, which started at Northern Colorado as a scholarship player, then took him to Boise State as a walk-on. He earned a scholarship before his junior season. A key special-teamer, he had 38 carries his first two seasons with the Broncos.
This season, Wolpin has 99 carries for 377 yards with four touchdowns, plus nine catches for 88 yards and six special teams tackles.
“Attacking it like I do every single week,” Wolpin said. “It feels good to be able to be a leader on the team, to step up, like it’s any other game.”
If Mattison can’t go, that leaves the Broncos with just two scholarship running backs who have played this season in Wolpin and redshirt freshman Robert Mahone. Mattison (1,074 yards, 12 TDs) would be a big loss, but Wolpin is no slouch.
“Catching it out of the backfield, making plays in the run game, he can do it all. I have 100 percent confidence,” Rypien said.
Wolpin, the team’s Plow Horse Award winner for his weight room prowess, also has a cerebral side. He had seen Mattison run a play in which he sent a receiver in motion and took a direct snap up the middle plenty of times.
“I’d never really ran through it in practice or a game,” Wolpin said.
But he did it in the game, on the winning touchdown.
Now that’s cool under pressure.
Las Vegas Bowl
Who: Boise State (10-3) vs. Oregon (7-5)
When: 1:30 p.m. MT, Saturday, Dec. 16
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
TV: ABC (Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Molly McGrath)
Tickets: $81.75 apiece at BroncoSports.com/tickets, the Athletic Ticket Office or via phone at 208-426-4737.
All-star TV crew assigned to Boise State-Oregon game
Rece Davis, the host of “College GameDay,” will call play by play for the Las Vegas Bowl. Kirk Herbstreit, the longtime “College GameDay” analyst who works the top ESPN/ABC game every week of the regular season, will provide color commentary. And Molly McGrath is the sideline reporter. McGrath usually works Friday night games, so she’s familiar with the Broncos.
The game airs at 1:30 p.m. MT Dec. 16 on ABC. It’s one of just three FBS bowls on ABC this year.
Herbstreit will call the Las Vegas Bowl for the fourth time. His three previous appearances were from 2010 to 2012 — the other three times Boise State played in the game, all wins.