Plenty of October midnights are spent watching movies with unkillable characters, no wound enough to completely stop them.
That was the Boise State football team on Thursday night.
Whatever blow BYU delivered, or whatever self-inflicted injury was brought upon themselves, the No. 14 Broncos somehow managed to take the 28-27 win at Albertsons Stadium despite five turnovers without forcing one. According to ESPN, Football Bowl Subdivision teams were 9-231 entering the game since 2004 when having a minus-5 turnover margin or worse.
“BYU played well tonight, but I do feel like it was more Boise vs. Boise,” Broncos coach Bryan Harsin said. “We had five turnovers in the game, we had some poor plays on special teams, you could probably call them more than poor plays. We had some really stupid penalties. ... and then we win the game.”
Sophomore nose tackle David Moa blocked BYU kicker Rhett Almond’s 44-yard field goal attempt with 16 seconds remaining. But BYU, which has had six of its eight games decided by three or fewer points, still had life when it recovered its own blocked kick, which came on second down.
“I think I’m too young to feel like this,” said a worn-out Moa, who also had a sack.
Said BYU linebacker Fred Warner: “This one hurt the most.”
But the Boise State defense, as it did all night, stepped up when its back was against the wall, forcing two incompletions to end the game, including a Hail Mary as time expired at 12:20 a.m. Friday with most of the announced crowd of 34,575 still on hand for the frantic finish. It wasn’t lost on the euphoric Broncos (7-0) that they lost to the Cougars (4-4) last year on a fourth-down Hail Mary with less than a minute to play.
BYU got the ball back when holder Mitchell Juergens recovered the blocked kick behind the line of scrimmage, and the clock stopped with 10 seconds left. In most cases, a player tackled in bounds stops the clock, but NCAA Rule 3-3-2-d-8 states that “a legal kick down” is among the plays when the clock stops after its completion.
Resilience was the name of the game Thursday for the Broncos, overcoming the turnovers, short fields and special teams miscues. They outgained the Cougars 571-322, getting 442 passing yards from sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien, plus another strong performance from junior running back Jeremy McNichols, who had 140 rushing yards and 109 receiving yards.
Trailing 27-21, the Boise State offense mounted a 10-play, 90-yard drive capped off by a McNichols 4-yard touchdown run with 10:37 left to play. He also had a 76-yard touchdown reception 49 seconds into the game. His 100-100 game was the fifth in Boise State history, and the first since Jay Ajayi on Nov. 30, 2013, against New Mexico.
“That win felt a little bit extra special,” McNichols said.
The Broncos went into the locker room at halftime up 21-17 with a 36-yard touchdown pass from Rypien to junior receiver Cedrick Wilson 35 seconds before the break, a much-needed big play after seeing a quick two-touchdown lead evaporate.
It was all made possible by some of the worst 15 minutes of the season for the Broncos. Two back-breaking penalties, two interceptions returned for touchdowns, a missed field goal and a blocked field goal — it was a full house of misery, packed into the length of one quarter.
“That doesn’t sound favorable for the Broncos, yet they were ready to attack the second half, which is exactly what they did,” Harsin said.
Up 14-0, a personal foul on tight end Chase Blakley pushed the ball back from the BYU 5-yard line to the 20, and the drive ended when kicker Tyler Rausa’s 32-yard field goal attempt was blocked by BYU’s Dayan Lake and returned by safety Kai Nacua to midfield with 1:49 left in the first quarter.
BYU finished the drive with a field goal to get on the board. On Boise State’s next play, Warner intercepted Rypien and raced up the east sideline for a 59-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 14-10.
Then on the Cougars’ next offensive possession, they unleashed perhaps the worst fake punt call in modern times on a fourth-and-19 from their own 5 as punter Johnny Linehan took the snap and tried to run but was stuffed at the 2.
“We thought we had it,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake told ESPN at halftime. “We wanted to be aggressive. We came here to win the game. They made a great adjustment.”
However, Boise State safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner, who grabbed the ball, thinking it was a fumble, ran into the end zone and spiked it in front of a referee. The 15-yard penalty again could not be overcome, and Rausa missed a 30-yard field goal.
That wasn’t the end of the slide. On BSU’s next drive, Rypien was picked off by Lake at the 50, and he returned it down the same sideline as Warner for the 17-14 lead with 4:54 left until halftime. The Cougars also had an interception return for a touchdown against the Broncos last year in their 35-24 win in Provo.
“We have to clean that up as an offense. We will get better and we will work on that over these next few games,” McNichols said.
BYU took back the lead on a 1-yard Taysom Hill touchdown run with 6:55 left in the third quarter that made it 24-21, set up after Boise State failed on a fourth down on the BYU 42-yard line. Almond made it 27-21 with 13:33 to play on a 37-yard field goal following a fumble by Boise State receiver Thomas Sperbeck at the Broncos’ own 21, but the defense held the Cougars to just 1 yard.
The Cougars had three drives start in Boise State territory but came away with three points. Running back Jamaal Williams, who broke the BYU career rushing record a week before, did not play because of an ankle injury.
“Really proud of the defense, because they were put in some really tough positions tonight over and over and over,” Harsin said.
With nonconference play complete, Boise State next faces a road matchup Oct. 29 at Wyoming (4-2 overall, 2-0 Mountain West), a surprise presence atop the Mountain Division.
“We are 7-0, and we have found a way to win,” Harsin said. “Sometimes, and you don’t always know why, but sometimes there’s something special about a football team where they stayed together the whole time. We could’ve folded at any point ... and we didn’t.”