Any Boise State loss at Albertsons Stadium comes as a shock, but Saturday was perhaps the most stunning of all.
New Mexico, a 30-point underdog and a team without a winning season since 2007, stuffed the black-clad home team in key situations and used a big-play offense for a 31-24 win.
It was only the Broncos’ fourth loss at home since 2001 and snapped their 18-game home winning streak they had built since Nov. 4, 2012.
Yet it nearly wound up going to overtime, thanks to that patented Boise State magic.
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With one second remaining at its own 40-yard line, freshman quarterback Brett Rypien hit junior wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck across the middle. Sperbeck faked a pitch and eventually lateraled to sophomore Austin Cottrell at the Lobos’ 44. Cottrell found room, and the 2006 “Circus” play danced in the minds of the Bronco faithful, but New Mexico safety Markel Byrd made the game-saving tackle at the 4 to end it.
“It was a tough one for the program, but we’re going to have to do what we can to bounce back,” senior safety Darian Thompson said.
Said Byrd, “that last play was crazy, the whole game was crazy.”
Boise State was just 2-for-6 on fourth down and committed four turnovers despite an offense that put up 638 yards and saw record-breaking performances from Sperbeck and Rypien.
The Lobos (6-4 overall, 4-2 Mountain West) now control their own fate in the conference’s Mountain Division. Had Boise State (7-3, 4-2) been able to pull out the win, the Broncos would have continued to be in the driver’s seat.
Boise State never led in the game, as early struggles put them in a hole the Broncos had to continuously dig out of, only to end up 12 feet short.
“It’s definitely not a good feeling and it’s not a feeling I ever want to get used to,” Sperbeck said. “I don’t think anyone on the team ever does.”
On five of the Broncos’ first six drives, they got inside the Lobos’ 35-yard line and walked with a grand total of three points.
The first, an interception of Rypien by New Mexico linebacker Ryan Langford at the Lobos’ 3-yard line was the Broncos’ first red zone turnover in their last 99 possessions inside the 20. The pass hit off receiver Chaz Anderson into Langford’s awaiting hands.
Twice more in the game did passes hit off Boise State receivers’ hands only to be intercepted by New Mexico defenders while numerous other passes were dropped, setting up second- or third-and-longs. The Lobos turned the last two into 10 points, but those early failures made Boise State play catchup all night.
“Didn’t expect the amount of dropped balls we had ... on the offensive side, the opportunities in the red zone, we didn’t take advantage of that,” Boise state coach Bryan Harsin said.
On the drops, Sperbeck said “It looked like we were trying to catch with our body. That’s on the wide receiver group. Brett’s putting the balls in, we just need to put them in.”
In the first half, Boise State missed a field goal and lost a fumble inside the red zone in addition to the Langford interception and also failed on a fourth-down attempt at the New Mexico 33 late in the second quarter, trailing 14-3 at the break. In Boise State’s five losses the last two seasons, it has turned the ball over 26 times.
Like the teams’ last meeting, a 60-49 affair last year in Albuquerque, big plays made the difference. The Lobos were outgained by 225 yards, running 52 plays to the Broncos’ 114, but averaged 7.9 yards per play, with six plays covering 30 yards or more. None was bigger than quarterback Austin Apodaca’s 81-yard pass to Delane Hart-Johnson a minute into the fourth quarter. A 1-yard touchdown run by Richard McQuarley with 13:44 to play made it 24-17 in favor of the Lobos.
Ninety-five seconds later, a 4-yard Terriyon Gipson touchdown run gave the Lobos breathing room after a Cranston Jones interception of Rypien gave New Mexico the ball at the Broncos’ 30. Rypien hit sophomore tight end Jake Roh on a 28-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 31-24 with 2:16 to play, but the last gasp was just short.
“You knew there was going to be some magic late in that game ... their fans almost willed them to win that game,” New Mexico coach Bob Davie said.
Rypien set school records with 41 completions on 75 attempts and threw for 506 yards, fourth-most in Boise State history. Sperbeck’s incredible game produced eye-popping numbers of 20 catches for 281 yards, both school records. Sophomore running back Jeremy McNichols ran for 128 yards and tied a Mountain West record with a rushing touchdown in his ninth straight game.
“They can put up numbers that are impressive, but that’s not what this is about ... we didn’t win, it wasn’t good enough from that standpoint,” Harsin said.
The Lobos got on the board first courtesy of a 74-yard touchdown run by senior running back Jhurell Pressley with 3:52 left in the first quarter. The play was upheld after a lengthy review in which it appeared Pressley stepped out of bounds after 53 of those yards.
Boise State cut into the lead with a 32-yard Tyler Rausa field goal nine seconds into the second quarter, but New Mexico responded with a five-play, 75-yard drive capped off with a 19-yard touchdown run by quarterback Lamar Jordan, who left the game with an injury in the first half. A Pressley 40-yard run on the second play of the drive got the Lobos into Bronco territory. In his last two games against the Broncos, Pressley has 13 carries for 280 yards after rushing six times for 126 yards Saturday. New Mexico and its triple option offense was held to just 35 yards rushing in the second half, but short fields thanks to turnovers were cashed in.
Another tough matchup awaits the Broncos on the blue — Air Force visits Friday. The Falcons, another run-heavy team, beat the Broncos 28-14 last season thanks to seven Boise State turnovers.
“Disappointed for our players, disappointed for our fans, disappointed for our coaches,” Harsin said. “We lost a game. We still have a lot to play for. That’s the thing, everybody wants to throw things out and all of a sudden we’re looking forward to next season. We’re not.”