Minutes after Boise State’s 59-52 overtime win at Colorado State, junior linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was overcome with emotion, tears in his eyes and hugging anyone in sight.
Who can blame the guy, after having forced the fumble to seal a 25-point comeback win?
Even coach Bryan Harsin didn’t know exactly what to do, trying to come up with the right words in postgame interviews. The fourth-year coach even went up into the stands to celebrate with the Bronco faithful that made the trek.
“I don’t really think I can explain it, to be honest,” junior quarterback Brett Rypien said. “I’ve never been in a game like that before.”
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Truth is, there haven’t been many Boise State games like Saturday’s, including all the crazy ones the Broncos have been a part of in recent years.
But it also meant a little more, considering the Broncos got closer to their biggest goal of winning the Mountain West. A Wyoming loss in the last two weeks or a Boise State win means a division title, the first since 2014. Boise State heads into Saturday’s 8:15 p.m. home game against Air Force having lost three in a row to the Falcons.
“Every win means a lot,” sophomore running back Alexander Mattison said. “The next game, it’s the most important game in this school’s history, because it’s the next game. And we’re going to attack it that way.”
The Broncos racked up an impressive 641 yards of balanced offense, with 331 passing and 310 rushing. Mattison was incredible, picking up 242 yards on the ground and another 44 receiving for a school-record 286 yards from scrimmage.
Junior quarterback Brett Rypien had a season-high 331 passing yards with four touchdowns to one interception. That interception set up Colorado State’s final touchdown, which gave the Rams a 52-38 lead with 3:02 to play. Yet, Rypien wasn’t fazed, going 9-for-12 the rest of the way, including touchdown passes to wide receiver Sean Modster and tight end Jake Roh in the final 1:41 to send it to overtime.
“He earned it,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “… He overcame some adversity, which is really hard to do in a game like this, and all the sudden you give it back with a turnover, you can fold.
“I’m proud as hell of him and our team.”
Boise State, which had gone nearly 310 minutes of game time without a turnover, lost the ball twice, and Colorado State turned it into 14 points. But Rypien again did a good job of spreading the ball around, hitting seven receivers, including Modster (career-high five catches), freshman Octavius Evans (career-highs of four catches and 43 yards) and Roh, who leads all tight ends in the FBS with nine TD receptions.
It started with an unusual first half for this defense, giving up touchdowns on the first five drives, struggling against the most balanced offense it had seen this season. The Rams got 309 passing yards from quarterback Nick Stevens and 161 rushing from running bak Dalyn Dawkins.
However, the Broncos showed some resilience as injuries mounted with two key linemen out for the game, and its linebackers riddled with them during the game.
Vander Esch’s forced fumble that was recovered at the 3-yard line showed the defense’s fight. The guy that recovered it, cornerback Tyler Horton, yielded 10 catches and 102 yards to Colorado State receiver Michael Gallup in the first half. After halftime, Gallup had one for zero yards.
“It’s the biggest thing for him, to just to show how he can finish,” redshirt freshman cornerback Avery Williams said.
The Broncos had two sacks against an offensive line that had allowed six all season. In a game with so much scoring, one series may have gotten lost in the shuffle, but also was a turning point. Early in the fourth quarter, Boise State stopped the Rams on a third down at the 1, and they settled for a 19-yard field goal and a 45-38 lead. Scoring a touchdown there might have been a dagger.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
With all the scoring, neither team’s return game had a ton of room to work. The Rams had three kickoff returns for 92 yards, but no punt returns. The Broncos had one punt return for 1 yard and 114 yards on five kickoff returns. Both teams’ kickers made their lone field goals.
But the MVP on special teams for Boise State was redshirt freshman Joel Velazquez, the kickoff specialist. Five of his eight kicks went for touchbacks, and the other, the onside kick that Cedrick Wilson recovered with 1:40 to play that set up the tying score, was perfect.
“That was probably the best onside kick I’ve ever seen,” Colorado State coach Mike Bobo said.