It all comes down to this, just as they had hoped.
When the Mountain West football schedule was announced in March, Boise State coaches, players and fans’ eyes quickly sought out Air Force. And the game has the weight the Broncos imagined it would carry in the regular-season finale.
A win Friday would put the pressure on Wyoming at New Mexico on Saturday night. A loss by the Cowboys in that scenario would give the Broncos the Mountain Division title, and they would then host San Diego State in the Mountain West championship.
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Oh, and there’s the fact Boise State is eager to end a two-game losing streak against Air Force.
“It’s an awesome opportunity. To me, it’s about as perfect as it gets,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.
The Broncos have lost to an opponent three straight years twice in school history: Idaho from 1982-93 and Nevada from 1996-98.
“It’s had a bearing on what we need to do, but it’s had a bearing on us the whole year, regardless of what the record was,” Boise State defensive line coach Steve Caldwell said. “We don’t want to set a new record of losing three in a row to them.”
Just like Air Force’s 37-30 win in Boise last year, this year’s matchup comes in the regular-season finale. Losing on Senior Night for the first time since 1998 left a bad taste the Broncos have not forgotten.
“It hurt me a lot,” junior offensive tackle Archie Lewis said. “This game’s been on my list; that’s all I’m going to say.”
Air Force will honor 31 seniors, including safety Weston Steelhammer, the nation’s active interceptions leader (17); receiver Jalen Robinette, the school’s all-time receiving leader (2,528 yards); and running back Jacobi Owens, fourth in school history with 2,883 yards.
“We want to change that. It’s going to be their senior night. They’re going to be fired up. It’s going to be on the road, so it’ll be a good environment,” Boise State sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien said.
Boise State will try to do it with an added degree of difficulty playing at Falcon Stadium — where Air Force is 16-1 the past three seasons, losing to Hawaii on Oct. 22 — and trying to stop its difficult option offense minus two key linebackers. Senior Tanner Vallejo had season-ending wrist surgery last week, and junior Joe Martarano broke his leg last week against UNLV.
The Falcons ran for 287 yards in 2014 the last time the teams played in Colorado Springs, and they had 607 total yards of offense last year in Boise (328 rushing, 297 passing). Harsin noted that starter Blake Whitlock has yet to play against the Falcons’ offense and that they “are lacking depth at the position now,” but said the group had a strong game against UNLV.
“We’ve had guys have to step up all year,” defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said. “... I think our guys have done a solid job of that. Obviously, this week is going to be huge for us.
“They’ll embrace the challenge.”
Certainly, Boise State was not the only team looking forward to the matchup.
“This year is just as big of a game as it was last year,” Steelhammer said. “... We’re going to have to be at the top of our game, that’s for sure.”
Harsin echoed almost the same thought: “We want to play our best game against Air Force.”
Whether it is getting a little revenge, taking care of what is in their control in the division race or proving to themselves they can stop an offense that has frustrated them greatly, the Broncos have plenty riding on Friday’s game.
“On top of it, where we are right now with our season that we’re having, it’s time to go finish,” Harsin said.
A TIGHT RIVALRY
Boise State and Air Force have played only four times, splitting the series. Most have been close battles.
Oct. 22, 2011: Boise State 37, Air Force 26 (Boise). Boise State had the ball for less than 24 minutes; Goodale FG with less than a minute to go kept Falcons from having shot to tie.
Sept. 13, 2013: Boise State 42, Air Force 20 (Boise). Joe Southwick was 27-of-29 passing, and Jay Ajayi scored four TDs as Broncos outscored Falcons 21-3 in second half.
Sept. 27, 2014: Air Force 28, Boise State 14 (Colorado Springs). The Broncos had seven turnovers and did not score until less than 10 minutes remained in the game.
Nov. 20, 2015: Air Force 37, Boise State 30 (Boise). Air Force’s 279 passing yards were its most in a game since 1989, and it won despite losing turnover margin 4-0.
No. 19 Boise St. at Air Force
- When: 1:30 p.m. Friday
- Where: Falcon Stadium (46,692, FieldTurf), Colorado Springs, Colo.
- TV: CBS Sports Network (Carter Blackburn, Aaron Taylor, Jenny Dell)
- Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
- Records: BSU 10-1, 6-1 MW; Air Force 8-3, 4-3
- Series: Tied 2-2
- Vegas: BSU by 9 1/2
- Kickoff weather: Upper 40s, sunny and windy