On a night when the Boise State football team honored a Fiesta, it spent a good amount having a siesta.
As sheets of rain fell throughout the first two quarters, the No. 15 Broncos sputtered at times Saturday against Colorado State at Albertsons Stadium.
They fell behind for the first time this season before scoring 28 straight points on their way to a 28-23 win.
Once Boise State snapped out of its nap and hitched its wagon to workhorse running back Jeremy McNichols, it was smooth sailing. Until the head-scratching final few minutes, when the Rams recovered two onside kicks and scored three touchdowns in a span of 85 seconds.
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“We knew at some point in this season, we were going to face (adversity), something like we’d never seen before. That came tonight, took a little longer than we expected,” senior linebacker Ben Weaver said. “You don’t know when it’s going to happen, but it happened tonight, and we pushed through it.”
McNichols had a Boise State single-game record 40 carries for a career-high 217 yards, eighth-most in school history. The junior, who had 12 yards on the ground in the first quarter, scored on two touchdown runs and added four receptions for 47 yards for Boise State (6-0, 3-0 Mountain West).
“I’ll probably be sore (Sunday) morning,” McNichols said.
A long reception late in the first half gave the offense the spark it needed, and his pair of scores in the third quarter put the game seemingly out of reach for the Rams (3-4, 1-2).
An 80-yard McNichols touchdown run with 4 minutes left in the third quarter appeared to be the dagger, as he broke through the right side of Boise State’s offensive line and sprinted untouched into the south end zone.
That run was the third of his career 80 yards or longer, and gave Boise State a 21-3 lead, which seemed to be plenty as the Broncos’ defense clamped down on the Rams most of the night.
“The one that he hit ... he called it, he said, ‘This is what play is going to work,’” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said of McNichols’ run.
Colorado State converted two fourth downs on its way to a 2-yard Izzy Matthews touchdown run with 5 minutes to play that made it 28-10.
The Rams got the onside kick, and a Nick Stevens-to-Michael Gallup 53-yard touchdown pass on the next play made it even closer.
And yes, the Rams got another onside kick, quickly going 54 yards, ending with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Stevens to Dalyn Dawkins with 3:35 to play.
Boise State got the third onside attempt and slowly moved the ball until McNichols was stopped on fourth-and-1 at the Rams’ 27-yard line with 15 seconds left. Colorado State tried a hook-and-ladder, ironic on the same night the 2007 Fiesta Bowl team was honored, but it didn’t work nearly as well as that one.
The second lateral was deemed forward after a lengthy review, prompting a 10-second runoff of the clock because of the violation. The game ended and what remained of the announced crowd of 33,448 let out a sigh of relief.
“I feel like we’ve got to come out in the fourth quarter with a more aggressive attitude and not get complacent at times,” McNichols said.
Said Colorado State coach Mike Bobo: “We dug ourselves a hole, but I’m proud of our guys and how we fought back. It wasn’t the fourth quarter we envisioned, but we put ourselves back in position to get a stop and have a chance to win the ball game.”
It was a fittingly strange end to a strange start.
Boise State senior wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck, 34 yards shy of the career receiving record, dropped a sure-fire touchdown pass on the first drive of the game on a fourth-and-13 from the Rams’ 37. Wet ball or not, it was a harbinger of a strange half to come.
The Rams took a 3-0 lead on a 39-yard Wyatt Bryan field goal with 7:24 left in the first quarter, putting Boise State behind for the first time this season. Outside the Broncos’ first and last drive of the first half, they had 68 yards of offense on four drives.
“It was just a slow start. ... We’ll probably emphasize that this week a lot,” Sperbeck said.
But that last drive was what the Broncos needed, as the rain started to dissipate just as the undefeated 2006 team was about to be honored at halftime.
Looking to avoid their first scoreless first half at home since Sept. 21, 2012, against BYU, the Broncos marched 75 yards on 10 plays, getting two third-down completions from Rypien to McNichols to keep the drive alive. The biggest came on a 33-yard toss down the sideline as McNichols raced past Colorado State defensive end/linebacker Evan Colorito, dropped back in coverage, to get into the red zone.
“If a linebacker ever goes out there, we’ve got an adjustment to it. I feel like that’s always going to be a mismatch, if a linebacker goes out there with me,” McNichols said.
Sperbeck atoned for a pair of first-half drops with a 12-yard touchdown grab from Rypien with 27 second left in the second quarter and a 7-3 lead into the break.
After the Broncos’ defense forced a three-and-out the first drive of the second half, the offense again put together a methodical drive, going 79 yards on 10 plays, capping it off with a McNichols 5-yard touchdown run for a 14-3 edge.
The Broncos’ scoring drives, outside of McNichols’ 80-yard score, all took at least 10 plays, the last of which was a 16-play, 90-yard affair that ended with Sperbeck throwing an 11-yard touchdown pass off a direct snap to sophomore receiver A.J. Richardson.
The late struggles forced the Broncos to put their starters in the game until the end, not preferable with BYU coming to Boise at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, but a win’s a win as they remained unbeaten and became bowl eligible for the 18th straight season.
“A little stressful, but it was really good to see everyone come together, finish it out, do what we need to do and get it done,” senior linebacker Darren Lee said. “A lot of people kind of talked that we hadn’t had adversity like that this season and it really hit us hard this game, and we were able to come out on top.”
It wasn’t a pretty win, and it wasn’t what the home crowd wanted to see, but Harsin was quick to defend the result.
“We have a win, what’s weird about that? It’s a W,” he said. “There’s nothing weird about that, it’s a win. Watch college football. Every single week, it’s hard to win every single week. There’s no apologies for a W, at all, whatsoever.”