The hunted got to play the role of hunters Saturday night, and it suited the Boise State football team well.
For the last decade, the Broncos have been the team to beat among the Group of Five conferences.
No. 19 San Diego State welcomed Boise State to SDCCU Stadium having won nine straight games and 27 of its last 30. The Aztecs were looking to establish themselves as a front-runner for the precious New Year’s Six bowl berth the Broncos have earned three times.
Calm and confident all week, Boise State put up its first dominant effort of the season in what many saw as its toughest game on the schedule. The Broncos were underdogs for just the second time in a Mountain West game since joining the league in 2011.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Idaho Statesman
The Broncos scored touchdowns in all three facets in the 31-14 win and suffocated San Diego State’s potent run game in a top-notch performance by the defense.
“It was a great win for us, think we played well as a team ... it all came together,” junior linebacker Leighton Vander Esch said.
Against a team that is renowned for its physicality, the Broncos were the ones dictating the line of scrimmage. Boise State had 12 tackles for loss on defense and yielded just two to the Aztecs.
“I think it was obvious they were the more physical football team out there tonight,” San Diego State coach Rocky Long said.
Before Boise State (4-2, 2-0) even picked up a first down on offense, it led 14-0. Redshirt freshman Avery Williams started the festivities with a 53-yard punt return 8 minutes, 43 seconds into the game.
On Thursday, Williams said of the Aztecs (6-1, 2-1), “Watching film on their punt team, I think we have a great chance of making something big happen in this game.”
Maybe next week, he can offer some stock tips.
“I had 10 other guys that did their job to a ‘T’ and blocked all their guys, so that made it easy on me,” Williams said.
Just 117 seconds after Williams’ score, freshman safety Kekaula Kaniho picked up an ill-advised pitch by San Diego State quarterback Christian Chapman and ran untouched for the 34-yard touchdown.
“Offense is overrated,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said, jokingly. “When your special teams and defense come up with big plays, that’s all a part of our team and our plan to go out there and win. You don’t always know you’re going to have a turnover for a touchdown, but you’re trying to create it.”
The defense had a season-high 12 tackles for loss, including four sacks, and held the Aztecs to 83 rushing yards, 140 yards below their average. Senior running back Rashaad Penny’s previous low this season was 107 yards. He had half that Saturday, picking up 53 yards on 21 carries.
“When you run the ball 100 yards every game, but you don’t tonight, that has to be frustrating,” Vander Esch said.
The Broncos’ offense, though not nearly as impressive as the defense, showed up when it was needed. Despite just 311 total yards, the Broncos’ three scoring drives covered 222 yards on 30 plays. Senior tight end Jake Roh caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Brett Rypien with 3:11 left before halftime to give the Broncos a 21-0 lead.
After the Aztecs threatened to make it close, the offense responded with a nine-play, 70-yard touchdown drive that included eight runs, capping off its scoring with 4:52 to play on a 4-yard Alexander Mattison rush that made it 31-14.
It was Mattison’s second straight 100-yard game as he had a career-best 128 yards on 23 carries.
“We know we can’t go back anymore. We took the steps to get here and we can only get better from here, established the run game as much as we could,” Mattison said. “... That’s the mentality. If we want to accomplish what we want to accomplish, we have to do it that way.
“They probably expected to come and beat us down, but we knew if we played Bronco football, that’s not going to be the story.”
Boise State came into the game 2-10 all-time as an unranked team playing a ranked team on the road. The two teams could very well meet up again Dec. 2 in the Mountain West championship game, as the Broncos and Aztecs were the preseason favorites in the Mountain and West divisions, respectively.
“I want to play them again, I want another shot at them,” Chapman said.
Next up for the Broncos is a bit of a shot at redemption, hosting Wyoming (4-2, 2-0) at 8:15 p.m. Saturday. The Cowboys were in a similar spot as the Broncos last October: they beat then-undefeated Boise State in Laramie.
“It’s a big win, there’s no doubt about it,” Harsin said. “... This really leads into conference, every game from here on out is a conference game.”
BSU — Avery Williams 53 punt return (Haden Hoggarth kick), 6:17. Key plays: After the Boise State defense forced a third consecutive punt for the Aztecs, stopping them on a third-13, Williams took ex-Boise State punter Brandon Heicklen’s punt back for the score. Williams said during the week the Broncos had opportunities to make big plays in the return game. Boise State 7, San Diego State 0.
BSU — Kekaula Kaniho 34 fumble return (Hoggarth kick), 4:20. Key plays: Facing a third-and-5 from his own 45, San Diego State quarterback Christian Chapman narrowly evaded a sack from linebacker Tyson Maeva, but was wrapped up by defensive end Durrant Miles. Chapman tried to heave it underhand forward, but the ball was behind where he tossed it, and Kaniho, a freshman safety, picked it up and scored untouched. Boise State 14, San Diego State 0.
BSU — Jake Roh 3 pass from Rypien (Hoggarth kick), 3:11. Drive: 11 plays, 77 yards, 5:58. Key plays: On the second play of the drive, Rypien couldn’t find an open receiver, pulled the ball down and went for a 31-yard run. His previous long was 16. Three plays later, he hit Cedrick Wilson for 19 on a third-and-5, then in a new little twist, found fellow quarterback Montell Cozart for 9 yards on a third-and-9 to get to the Aztecs’ 13. Boise State 21, San Diego State 0.
SDSU — Fred Trevillion 89 pass from Chapman (John Baron II kick), 4:15. Drive: 1 play, 89 yards, 0:10. Key plays: After the Aztecs had nothing going on offense the entire game, with just 122 yards before the score, Chapman hit Trevillion on a streak past Boise State’s Tyler Horton. It was the first TD catch by a San Diego State wide receiver this season. Boise State 21, San Diego State 7.
BSU — Hoggarth 19 field goal, 14:52. Drive: 10 plays, 75 yards, 4:18. Key plays: With Cozart behind center, the Broncos got runs of 11 and 7 the first two plays by Alexander Mattison, and after Ryan Wolpin’s short run converted a third down, Cozart connected with Wilson for 41 yards. Wolpin got 5 yards to get to the 2, but the Broncos gained nothing the next two plays. Boise State 24, San Diego State 7.
SDSU — Rashaad Penny 11 run (Baron kick), 10:06. Drive: 10 plays, 84 yards, 4:42. Key plays: San Diego State’s stagnant offense woke up behind Chapman, who was 4-for-5 for 51 yards on the drive, and added a 7-yard run. Penny, who had 24 yards before the drive, had four rushes for 26 yards. Boise State 24, San Diego State 14.
BSU — Mattison 4 run (Hoggarth kick), 4:52. Drive: 9 plays, 70 yards, 5:09. Key plays: Boise State threw once the drive: a 7-yard completion by Cozart to tight end Jake Roh on a third-and-3. The rest was done by Mattison (six carries for 49 yards) and Ryan Wolpin (two carries for 14). Boise State 31, San Diego State 14.