Some of the best plays of the Boise State football team’s 2017 season are directly related to failures in those same situations in 2016.
Never was that more true than Saturday night, when the Broncos recovered an onside kick to spark their come-from-behind, 59-52, overtime win at Colorado State.
Last year in Boise, the Rams recovered two onside kicks while trying to stage their own furious rally against the Broncos.
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“We learned something from it,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “There’s a reason why we’re better at it, or at least we were tonight.”
Still, there’s a great deal of luck involved in a successful onside kick. The Broncos practice their onside kicks every Friday, and they needed to repeat it several times this past week to get it right.
They only got one shot in the game – and it was so perfect that one CBS Sports Network commentator called it the best onside kick he’s ever seen.
“It was right where we needed it to be,” Boise State special teams coach Kent Riddle said.
The Broncos, like many teams these days, lined up with two kickers on the field to disguise where the ball would go. They’re required to have at least four players on each side of the kicker, so overloading one side is no longer an option.
Punter Quinn Skillin was the decoy, approaching the ball and peeling off. Kickoff specialist/punter Joel Velazquez then drove the ball into the ground and created the pop-up action that kickers covet on onside kicks.
Cedrick Wilson, the Broncos’ star wide receiver, avoided Colorado State’s blockers while running down the left sideline, jumped into the air and caught the kick at the Colorado State 45-yard line.
“Joel hit a perfect ball,” Riddle said.
And Wilson caught it like he was going up for a pass in the end zone – a highlight moment in a mostly forgettable game for him because he was trying to play through an arm injury that limited his catching range.
Wilson is the outside target on the onside kick. The other two primary targets were tight end Jake Roh and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who were blocked by the Rams.
“Ced is unbelievably tough,” junior quarterback Brett Rypien said. “... For him to make that play in that situation does not surprise me.”
Rypien was talking to offensive coordinator Zak Hill when the recovery happened. The Broncos had just raced down the field to pull within 52-45 and were about to take the field again for the game-tying drive.
“I turned around and hung up mid-sentence because I saw he’d got it,” Rypien said.