It was the sort of result Chris Petersen was accustomed to seeing at Albertsons Stadium — just not while prowling the west sideline, and not on the wrong side of the win column.
Friday’s much-ballyhooed return of Petersen to the blue turf, where he went 48-2 as head coach of Boise State from 2006 to 2013, was all about the boys in blue until the Washington Huskies came roaring back late. Months of hype led up to a fittingly close matchup.
And in its own twisted way, history repeated for Petersen, who had a field goal miss late in one of those two losses. Junior kicker Cameron Van Winkle missed a 46-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in an attempt to tie.
The Broncos’ 16-13 win was made more of a nail-biter thanks to their own special teams miscues, but a strong defense and some early offensive punch gave them enough to win.
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“It’s a different game ... I don’t want to minimize it — you only get so many of these games,” Petersen said. “This is a really good team we played. We had a chance, that’s when it gets really frustrating, that we couldn’t do a little bit more.”
With 36,836 fans on hand — the second-largest crowd in the stadium’s history — Boise State blanked Washington for the first 41 minutes, 50 seconds before a 40-yard Van Winkle field goal put three on the board for the Huskies.
But it came down to the late kick, which Van Winkle pushed wide right — by inches. It was made longer thanks to a holding penalty that sent the Huskies from the Broncos’ 19-yard line to the 29, then a sack by Boise State senior defensive tackle Justin Taimatuia to the 37 before a pass by Washington quarterback Jake Browning got the Huskies a little closer.
“When I stood up and looked back I thought it might have had a chance,” Boise State senior Darian Thompson said. “At the last second I guess a little gust of wind just knocked it right.”
The Broncos’ defense dominated, but special teams blunders kept the Huskies afloat. Washington blocked Boise State’s first extra-point attempt and had a 17-yard punt return by sophomore Dante Pettis to the Broncos’ 26-yard line that set up the field goal.
Three minutes later, the next time he touched the ball, Pettis, a cousin of former Bronco great Austin Pettis, ran back a Sean Wale punt 76 yards for a touchdown to cut Boise State’s lead to 16-10 with 1:37 left in the third quarter. Washington’s Jaydon Mickens blocked Wale’s next punt attempt, leading to a 28-yard Van Winkle field goal that cut the lead to 16-13 with 7:29 remaining.
“We didn’t have that, we would really be struggling,” Petersen said. “We spend a lot of time on them, kids buy into them. ... All those plays were huge, kept us in the game.”
Boise State’s defense was a tough matchup for Browning, a true freshman in his first college game. The Huskies were held to 179 total yards, tied for their fewest in a game since 2010.
“Obviously our defense carried us throughout the game,” Boise State sophomore quarterback Ryan Finley said.
That experienced Bronco defense was very much needed, as the Boise State offense faltered in the second half, picking up only six first downs in the final two quarters. Boise State had a 254-46 advantage in yardage in the first two quarters, but was outgained 133-83 in the second half and was shutout. When the ball was moving, it was thanks to a consistent rushing attack.
Sophomore Jeremy McNichols shouldered a majority of the load with 24 carries for 89 yards and two touchdowns, capping off drives that ate up a combined 11:35. He had just 17 rush attempts last season.
In his first start, Finley was 16-of-26 for 129 yards with an interception, doing more damage with his scrambling, including a fourth-down conversion that led to McNichols’ first touchdown, a 7-yard run with 3:12 left in the first quarter.
It may not have needed to be so close, either: McNichols was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 rush at the Huskies’ 15-yard line with 8:27 until halftime, and Finley’s interception at the 10 came four minutes later.
The Broncos improved to 2-2 all-time against Washington with the win, avenging a 38-6 loss in Seattle in Petersen’s final season in 2013. They also are 8-3 against Pac-12 teams since 2006. Next up for Boise State: an 8:15 p.m. kickoff Saturday at BYU.
“We weren’t in some very good situations in this game, but we were able to respond, and we were able to find a way to win,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.