Coming into Friday night’s game against UNLV, Boise State had 60 yards worth of punt returns all season. Junior wide receiver Cedrick Wilson got that and more on his first attempt.
Wilson’s 73-yard punt return in the first quarter set up a 6-yard Jeremy McNichols touchdown run on the next play that gave Boise State a 14-3 lead with 38 seconds remaining. It was the Broncos’ longest punt return since Donte Deayon’s 75-yard touchdown at Wyoming on Nov. 22, 2014.
Wilson was stopped just shy of the score by UNLV punter Evan Pantels.
Boise State won the game 42-35.
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Wilson wasn’t done giving a boost to a struggling Boise State return unit. He took a second-quarter kickoff 44 yards to give the Broncos strong field position with 1:43 left in the first half, and though the Broncos drove downfield, they came up empty on a missed Tyler Rausa 28-yard field goal.
“Special teams, we’ve won the field position battle,” said Boise State coach Bryan Harsin, whose team’s average start was its own 44. “... The field position has been a big part of our success, and tonight we got some return yards. We had some big returns on kickoff return, on punt return, which we’ve been really striving for.”
The kickoff return also was the Broncos’ longest of the season. The previous long in 2016 was a 37-yarder by senior cornerback Jonathan Moxey. Wilson’s was the longest by any Bronco since Dallas Burroughs went 47 yards on Sept. 20, 2014, against Louisiana.
Boise State was 118th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in punt return average and 71st in kickoff return average entering the game. Wilson added an 8-yard punt return and also had a 26-yard kickoff return.
“When you’re sitting there and your back is up against that wall, too many times it’s first-and-10 and you’re within your own 20, and too many times it’s first-and-10 and they’re on the opposite side of the 35-yard line,” UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said.
Said Boise State senior linebacker Darren Lee, who had a partially blocked punt: “Special teams really came alive tonight. It was great to see that.”
GOOD DOGS EVERYWHERE
Kohl, the tee-fetching dog, wasn’t the only canine allowed on the field Friday night. There were a few special guests out there, too.
Prior to the coin toss, six dogs from the Boise Police Department’s K9 unit were recognized at midfield. On Thursday, K9 Jardo died after being shot in a shootout that also left two officers with gunshot wounds.
One of those two officers, Cpl. Chris Davis, was recognized before the game. Davis played linebacker at Boise State on its 1994 team and knows Harsin, who began playing in 1995 for the Broncos.
A FINE FINALE FOR SENIORS
The Broncos honored 20 players prior to Friday’s game — 19 seniors and junior snapper Matt Cota, who has decided to have this be the last season of his playing career.
Leading the way for the seniors on the stat sheet against the Rebels was Lee, who stepped in after junior Joe Martarano was hurt late in the first quarter and led the Broncos with 11 tackles.
He also had a partial block of a UNLV punt that covered just 27 yards and gave the Broncos the ball at their own 45. Three plays later, freshman running back Alexander Mattison’s 3-yard touchdown run gave Boise State a 28-10 edge.
Senior defensive end Sam McCaskill had seven tackles (two for loss) and batted down a pass.
Senior wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck led Boise State with five catches for 47 yards and had a great block to seal the edge on junior running back Jeremy McNichols’ 31-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Sperbeck carried out the Hammer for the first time. ... Boise State wore all-blue uniforms, while the Rebels wore black helmets, white jerseys and white pants. ... Boise State fumbled four times, but lost only one. ... ... Junior running back Cory Young, who did not have a carry all season until last Saturday at Hawaii, had four carries for 31 yards on the final possession.