Cedrick Wilson helped inspire Boise State’s 2017 football season by telling his teammates how much football meant to him.
And on Saturday, he inspired the Broncos one last time by showing them.
Wilson delivered one of the greatest individual performances in school history to help the No. 25 Broncos dominate the Oregon Ducks 38-28 in the Las Vegas Bowl.
His 10 catches for 221 yards and a touchdown were spectacular — but that doesn’t even begin to tell the story of what Wilson did for his team.
He rolled both of his ankles during the game and barely was able to walk off the field after the second injury, late in the first half. Yet with the Ducks threatening to come back from a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit, there was Wilson streaking down the sideline for a 41-yard reception that sealed the win.
“I’m only going to be hurt for those three hours,” Wilson said, “but this victory is going to last forever.”
It was another lingering result that fueled Wilson during the offseason and contributed to the speech he gave as part of the team’s senior talks during fall camp. The Broncos lost the Cactus Bowl to Baylor last year after falling short in the Mountain West’s Mountain Division.
That was Wilson’s first season in Boise. This was his last. Because he switched from quarterback to wide receiver after high school, he spent his first two years at a junior college. He didn’t have much time to win the first championship of his football career.
“I just told my team flat out how much football means to me,” Wilson said. “I told each and every one of them: ‘You need to find your purpose and why you do it. If you don’t have a purpose to do football, then you’re not going to last in this game.’ And then I told them we were going to go out there and conquer every (part) of our goal, and we did it this year.”
Wilson’s teammates and coach Bryan Harsin have cited that speech as a key moment in the Broncos’ season, which ended with an 11-3 record, Mountain West championship, bowl victory against a Pac-12 team and Top 25 ranking — the best result for the Broncos since the Fiesta Bowl title in 2014.
“He said he wanted to win a championship, and he got emotional about it,” Boise State junior linebacker Leighton Vander Esch said. “It lit a fire under me.”
Wilson’s senior year is an embodiment of the goal that has hovered above the Boise State football program for many years and is printed in large letters in the team meeting room: to win a conference title and a bowl game with class, integrity and academic excellence.
He delivered the defining play of the Mountain West title game, a 59-yard reception that set up the winning touchdown. He was the MVP of the bowl game. He was a captain whose class is evident whenever he speaks publicly — including Friday at the bowl luncheon, where he made sure to give the marching band a shout-out.
And on Saturday, Wilson graduated from college — in three and a half years, which is almost unheard of for a guy who went to junior college and played college football.
All that goes back to Wilson’s own purpose.
“I just play the game for my mom and siblings,” he said. “... People are always going to tie you back to your family. I won a Mountain West championship, a bowl game and I graduated, so it’s not much better than this.”
Wilson capitalized on Oregon’s reliance on man coverage, freeing him from the common double teams he experienced in conference play. He slipped free on a short crossing route on third-and-4 in the first quarter for a 26-yard touchdown. But he injured an ankle on a sweep on the next drive — the same ankle he had surgically repaired after last season — and spent roughly two drives on the sideline.
“I just had to let the feeling come back,” Wilson said. “It went kind of numb on me.”
He returned to make a 65-yard reception in the closing seconds of the first half, but the tackler landed on his other ankle. Wilson slowly moved to his hands and knees but had to be helped to the sideline.
For the rest of the game, he was used sparingly.
“(Wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau) just told me he was going to save me for the plays I really needed to go in on,” Wilson said.
On the sideline, he tried to keep a positive vibe as the Ducks gained momentum. At one point, he noticed the situation was eerily similar to the Washington State loss in September. The Broncos squandered a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter of that game. They led this one by 17.
Wilson walked to different position groups and told his teammates the offense needed to score again to win.
“This isn’t about to be the same outcome,” he told them.
Moments later, the Broncos faced third-and-7 with 4:20 left at the Oregon 48-yard line while clinging to a 31-21 lead. The Ducks had just called a timeout, hoping to get the ball back with time to complete the comeback.
The Broncos relied on Wilson to prevent that.
“We knew they would bring pressure,” Harsin said. “When the moment was critical, and they needed something, as most teams do, they’re going to bring pressure. That gave us maximum protection and Ced one-on-one, which to be honest, is one of the highest percentage plays in the game for us.”
Wilson watched the safety work the middle of the field and knew quarterback Brett Rypien would launch the ball down the sideline. The 41-yard grab — on a perfect throw, Wilson noted — led to Ryan Wolpin’s clinching score.
“When I saw the ball in the air,” Wilson said, “I was like, ‘This is to seal the game, so you’ve got to go catch it.’ I feel like that was my final signature part at Boise State.”
The NFL prospect leaves after just 24 months on campus, but with quite a legacy. He broke the single-season school record for receiving yards in the first half and finished with 1,511 yards. He was a team captain and team MVP. And he’s got that degree in communications.
Plus, of course, he’ll get the much-desired ring — one that will note that he was a champion not once, but twice, this season.
His college goals are complete.
“It’s time to write some new ones,” he said.
Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman sports editor. Contact him at ccripe@ idahostatesman.com, 208-377-6398 or @chaddcripe on Twitter.