RECAP: BOISE STATE 38, ARIZONA 30
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The No. 20 Boise State football team won its third Fiesta Bowl championship on Wednesday afternoon at University of Phoenix Stadium in another thriller.
The Broncos beat No. 10 Arizona 38-30. It’s their first win against a ranked team since the 2011 season opener and first win against a Power Five conference team since the 2012 bowl game.
Sophomore defensive end Kamalei Correa sacked Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon inside the Broncos’ red zone on a play that began with about 15 seconds left. The clock ran out because the Wildcats didn’t have a timeout.
The Broncos’ MVPs were sophomore wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck (12 catches, 199 yards) and sophomore linebacker Tanner Vallejo (14 tackles, 1.5 sacks). Junior cornerback Donte Deayon added an interception return for a touchdown.
Boise State tailback Jay Ajayi rushed for 134 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Grant Hedrick was 24-for-34 for 309 yards and a touchdown with an interception.
“Everybody kept talking about this is our third time at the Fiesta Bowl,” Deayon said. “For this coaching staff and this group of players, this is all of our first time being here and being on a stage like this. We all wanted to seize the moment.”
Boise State has the fourth-most Fiesta Bowl wins in the game’s history. Penn State has six, Arizona State has five and Ohio State has four. Boise State and Penn State are the only two teams in that club without a loss.
Boise State finished the season with nine straight wins. This was the Broncos’ fifth win against a Top 10 team in school history.
Huge finish for Ajayi
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Some wondered if Boise State junior tailback Jay Ajayi would hold back in his last game as a Bronco knowing that he’s headed for the NFL.
Ajayi gave a resounding rebuttal in the opening 19 minutes of the Fiesta Bowl on Wednesday. He rushed for three touchdowns, including a 56-yarder on his first carry, a 16-yarder keyed by a wicked stiff arm and a 1-yarder on which he dove to reach the pylon. He also shook off a minor leg injury on the second drive.
Along the way, Ajayi broke Ian Johnson’s school record for rushing yards in a season and Brock Forsey’s record for rushing touchdowns in a season and tied Forsey’s record for total touchdowns in a season.
“It was a lot of emotions coming into this game just because I knew it was gong to be my last game,” said Ajayi, who announced his intention to enter the NFL Draft a year early before the bowl trip. “My mindset was to make sure I leave it all out on the field. For me to be able to take my first carry to the house, I would have never dreamed about that. It was just amazing. I really just left it all out there, sacrificed my body, to make sure that I could put our team in a great position to win.”
Ajayi said he “got a little tweak” in his leg when he was hit low on a 16-yard run. He left the game for the rest of the series. He got the wind knocked out of him on the diving touchdown.
“I feel good,” he said.
Ajayi finished with 1,823 rushing yards this season, topping Johnson’s record (1,713) from 2006. He rushed for 28 touchdowns, topping Forsey’s record (26) from 2002. And he scored 32 total touchdowns, which is tied with Forsey for the third-most in Football Bowl Subdivision history. Ajayi also set a record with his 10th 100-yard game this season and tied a record with his 192 points. He added to previous records for single-season carries (347) and all-purpose yards (2,358).
Boise State junior cornerback Donte Deayon joined the Broncos’ Fiesta Bowl pick-six club against Arizona. He returned an interception 16 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. He joined safety Marty Tadman (2007) and cornerback Brandyn Thompson (2010) with an interception return for a TD in the Fiesta Bowl for the Broncos.
“We talked about that,” Deayon said. “We wanted to score on defense. I didn’t know it was going to be a pick six. I just knew I wanted to get in the end zone and be like those guys.”
It was Deayon’s second interception return for a touchdown this season. He also had a punt return for a touchdown against Wyoming, making him the first Bronco in six years to score three non-offensive touchdowns in a season.
Bell steps up
Boise State senior safety Corey Bell, beaten earlier in the half for a 51-yard touchdown pass, broke up back-to-back passes late in the fourth quarter to help preserve the Boise State victory.
The plays capped an up-and-down season for the senior captain, who was forced to change positions because of injuries in the defensive backfield. He struggled at times and lost some playing time, before returning to near full-time duty in the final games of the season.
“Corey Bell took some lumps this year, talking about how he wasn't playing well at times. But that kid was out of position,” defensive coordinator Marcel Yates said. “(Bell and linebacker Tanner Vallejo, who also switched positions) don’t make excuses. They come in every day and work. They do everything you ask them to do and they make plays for you.”
Leading 38-30 in the final minutes, Bell broke up a pass intended for Samajie Grant on third-and-10 from the Boise State 35-yard line. On fourth down, Bell intercepted a pass intended for Cayleb Jones, but was out of bounds. Arizona would get the ball back one more time, but Bell was part of a defense that held the Wildcats out of the end zone as time expired.
“I don’t think it’s going to hit me for a little bit that we just actually won the Fiesta Bowl,” said Bell, a Capital High graduate. “It’s definitely a special moment — the best way to go out.”
Big losses for Arizona
Arizona played the entire second half without two key players: senior safety Jared Tevis, the second-leading tackler, and true freshman tailback Nick Wilson, the leading rusher.
Tevis left the game in the first half with an elbow injury, according to his brother and former Boise State linebacker Aaron Tevis. Wilson took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Boise State linebacker Tanner Vallejo and didn’t return.
“I was just coming in and filled the hole,” Vallejo said. “Obviously I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. You hate to see anybody go out. Just doing what I love to do and hit it.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon passed for 335 yards and a TD but was just 28-for-49 with two interceptions. He also took eight sacks.
Linebacker Scooby Wright, the national defensive player of the year, made 10 solo tackles, including two for loss.
“He was hard to handle the second half,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.
Boise State wore its “Fiesta look” — orange pants, white jerseys, blue helmets. The Broncos’ captains were quarterback Grant Hedrick, Ajayi, kicker Dan Goodale and Bell. Linebacker Darren Lee carried the Hammer. He won the season-long award. Arizona won the coin toss and deferred. The game officials were from the Big Ten. Attendance: 66,896. Boise State fans appeared to make up 30-40 percent of the crowd. Boise State also extended its red-zone hot streak. The Broncos scored on 47 straight drives inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, including 38 touchdowns. Boise State sophomore punter Sean Wale averaged a school postseason-record 49.5 yards on eight punts with a long of 61. The Broncos have won seven of their past 10 games against the Pac-12. Hedrick finished his career with a school-record completion percentage of 70.2.
BSU — Jay Ajayi 56 run (Dan Goodale kick), 13:18. Key plays: Wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck made a 14-yard grab on the first play on a ball thrown behind him. The touchdown came on third-and-2 and Ajayi wasn’t touched. Drive: 4 plays, 78 yards, 1:42. Boise State 7, Arizona 0
BSU — Chaz Anderson 57 pass from Grant Hedrick (Goodale kick), 9:17. Key plays: Ajayi busted a 16-yard run up the middle but was injured on the tackle. He returned for the next drive. Sperbeck made a tough catch for 3 yards on third-and-2. Anderson’s TD was a deep ball. Drive: 6 plays, 88 yards, 2:30. Boise State 14, Arizona 0
BSU — Ajayi 16 run (Goodale kick), 5:12. Key plays: Sperbeck made grabs for 11 and 36 yards. On second-and-17, Hedrick threw to Anderson on a hitch. Anderson made a defender miss and gained 20 yards. The TD came on the Statue of Liberty. Drive: 6 plays, 80 yards, 2:11. Boise State 21, Arizona 0
UA — Anu Solomon 1 run (Casey Skowron kick), 1:23. Key plays: Solomon hit Austin Hill for 14 yards on second-and-11, Nick Wilson ran for 18 yards and Solomon scrambled for 12 yards. The two freshmen carried the ball on nine consecutive plays. Drive: 11 plays, 65 yards, 3:37. Boise State 21, Arizona 7
BSU — Ajayi 1 run (Goodale kick), 11:56. Key plays: Sperbeck made another nice catch for a 31-yard gain on second-and-21. Ajayi scored on third-and-goal, lunging for the pylon just as he landed out of bounds. The Broncos were set up in Arizona territory by a Cleshawn Page interception. Drive: 5 plays, 22 yards, 2:40. Boise State 28, Arizona 7
UA — Wilson 1 run (Skowron kick), 8:03. Key plays: Wilson carried seven times for 43 yards, including the third-and-goal TD. Wide receiver Cayleb Jones added a 14-yard catch. Drive: 13 plays, 83 yards, 3:49. Boise State 28, Arizona 14
UA — Skowron 42 field goal, :30. Key plays: Hedrick threw behind Sperbeck, who tipped the pass. Cornerback Cam Denson intercepted and returned the ball to the Boise State 30-yard line. But the Wildcats went three-and-out. Drive: 4 plays, 5 yards, :23. Boise State 28, Arizona 17
BSU — Goodale 36 field goal, :03. Key plays: The Broncos got the ball with 30 seconds left but coach Bryan Harsin decided to try to score. Hedrick hit Sperbeck for 25 and 15 yards and wide receiver Troy Ware for 17 to set up the field goal. Drive: 4 plays, 57 yards, :27. Boise State 31, Arizona 17
UA — Skowron 24 field goal, 9:11. Key plays: Running back Terris Jones-Grigsby converted a fourth-and-1 with a 6-yard run and Solomon hit Jones for 13 yards on third-and-4. But defensive tackle Sam McCaskill forced Solomon out of bounds for a sack on third-and-goal. Drive: 14 plays, 50 yards, 4:18. Boise State 31, Arizona 20
BSU — Donte Deayon 16 interception return (Goodale kick), 1:57. Boise State 38, Arizona 20
UA — Samajie Grant 51 pass from Solomon (Skowron kick), :41. Key plays: Jones-Grigsby gained 12 yards on a reception. Grant beat safety Corey Bell on a deep ball for the TD. Drive: 5 plays, 75 yards, 1:16. Boise State 38, Arizona 27
UA — Skowron 32 field goal, 6:11. Key plays: Jones-Grigsby turned a screen pass into 20 yards on second-and-14 and wide receiver Trey Griffey made an 18-yard catch. A tackle for loss by defensive end Gabe Perez and a false start forced the field-goal try. Drive: 10 plays, 50 yards, 3:06. Boise State 38, Arizona 30
A few leftovers from the week:
— Boise State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said he has enjoyed the way coach Bryan Harsin has challenged him this year. “That’s the one thing I always look for when I have a chance to be in a great coaching environment — I want to feel like I’m growing and I’m being challenged. Because of what coach Harsin has done, this has been my biggest year of growth.” Sanford appreciates that Harsin lets him call all the plays, but Harsin is involved in game planning. Sanford and wide receivers coach Junior Adams work on the pass game. Offensive line coach Scott Huff and tight ends coach Eliah Drinkwitz work on the run game with input from running backs coach Kent Riddle. Harsin works independently. “We have the run game pod, the pass game pod and the Harsin pod,” Sanford said. “All the pods get back together and we throw everything against the wall. I love the way we game plan. It’s fun. It keeps you on edge. You feel really ready on game day.”
—Boise State junior safety Darian Thompson on the Fiesta Bowl: “It feels like it’s huge just to know that we’ve made it ourselves. A lot of the players from the other Fiesta Bowl teams went on to play in the NFL and have been extremely successful. To know that our team here is up there with those teams and made it to a big bowl like this means a lot to us.”
— Arizona left tackle Mickey Baucus: “Kind of the whole year people haven’t really given us a shot, especially in big games. So it’s kind of neat to be playing against another underdog.”
— Boise State linebacker Ben Weaver on Arizona: “They’re a great team. They beat Oregon. They kind of play to their competition a lot. They’ve beaten teams like that and then also played with teams like Nevada.”
— Injured Boise State senior wide receiver Matt Miller ran sprints on the field before the game with just a light ankle brace. He didn’t do any change of direction, though. He won’t play in the game.
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