It just wouldn’t be Halloween without a few tricks.
Points from unexpected sources and scored in unusual ways were the norm Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Dressed up for the occasion in new-look black helmets with orange facemasks, the Boise State Broncos defeated the UNLV Rebels 55-27 in a game that saw two fumble recoveries, a quarterback reception and a seldom-used senior score his first touchdown.
“Things like that are exciting, just to get the ball in the end zone any way possible,” Boise State senior safety Darian Thompson said.
The Broncos (7-2 overall, 4-1 Mountain West) never trailed despite a feisty effort from the home team, getting its first touchdown on a 4-yard pass from junior wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck to freshman quarterback Brett Rypien on a little trickery that made it 10-0 with 3:51 left in the first quarter.
Rypien didn’t have his Superman costume under his uniform, but he sure played like it.
He set a Boise State and Mountain West freshman record with 469 yards passing (fourth-most by any quarterback in school history), completing 35-of-52 passes, tossing two touchdowns in addition to his scoring reception. It was his fourth game throwing for 299 yards or more in the six games he has been the starter.
“I just can’t wait to see what’s next with that guy,” junior receiver Chaz Anderson said of Rypien.
On his first touchdown strike of the game, Rypien dug deep into his arsenal of targets. On fourth-and-1, he faked a handoff to sophomore running back Jeremy McNichols, holding the ball behind his back, then lofting a 44-yard catch and run touchdown to senior tight end Jake Hardee.
It was Hardee’s seventh catch of his career, and his first score. He had to sweat it out a bit as replay eventually confirmed his knee didn’t hit the ground as he was being dragged to the ground reaching for the end zone.
“A long time coming,” Hardee said. “It’s something I dreamed about since I was a little kid ... . I was talking to my guys, just praying, ‘please don’t call it back, don’t put me down on the 1.’”
UNLV (2-6, 1-3) may as well have worn hockey masks with its refusal to die. Four times, the Rebels cut 14-point Boise State leads to a touchdown and failed on a fourth down attempt at the 5-yard line with 7:38 to play trying to cut into a 41-27 lead. In the first half, the Rebels scored touchdowns on a 1-yard Fred Wilson fumble return off a McNichols fumble and a recovery in the end zone by offensive guard Eric Noone on a fumble by running back Xzavier Campbell.
The Broncos got the 41-27 edge after Anderson hauled in a 16-yard catch along the sideline on third-and-12, then was hit perfectly in stride on a 54-yard touchdown pass from Rypien on the very next play. That sparked a 21-point flurry in the final 10 minutes.
“You always talk about the nail in the coffin and try to get the separation, especially late when it’s a tight game,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “... when it’s the last quarter of the game, you’re probably going to be in great shape, and that’s exactly what we did on that play.”
Senior receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes and junior quarterback Tommy Stuart scored their first touchdowns of the season in the fourth quarter, on 11-yard and 2-yard runs, respectively. They were part of an offensive explosion that produced 705 yards, fourth-most in school history, including 122 rushing yards from McNichols and 11 players credited with a reception.
“There could be a lot better performance, the stinking (McNichols) fumble, and did some things that are really uncharacteristic of us that really gave them life, but with that being said, I challenged those guys,” offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz said. “That’s a defense that hadn’t given up more than 38 points to anybody.”
UNLV answered Rypien’s touchdown catch with a receiver-to-receiver gadget play that covered 30 yards to get into Boise State’s red zone to set up its first score, a field goal. Senior quarterback Blake Decker completed 29-of-50 passes for 357 yards, intercepted twice, one by Thompson (his 19th, breaking the Mountain West career record) and junior cornerback Ray Ford (his first).
“I’ve had better days,” defensive coordinator Marcel Yates said with a wry smile. “You know what, we battled. I didn’t think we played too well on the back end. They obviously had way too many passing yards. I think this is the first game we felt the effects of having two starters out, (senior cornerback) Donte Deayon and (sophomore safety) Dylan Sumner-Gardner.”
Though those defensive backs may not be back when Boise State takes the field again Nov. 14 at home against New Mexico, the Broncos feel good about how they finished off their ninth straight game to start the season and into a much-needed bye.
“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” Thompson said.