Five hours before Saturday’s game even started, the Boise State football team knew it had a spot in the Mountain West championship game.
But that didn’t stop the Broncos from putting up one inspired effort against the Air Force Falcons at Albertsons Stadium.
Boise State, trying to avoid a fourth straight loss against Air Force, won 44-19 in a game that was cathartic — a correction of many of the mistakes made the previous three meetings.
“Tonight, it’s about doing something we haven’t done since we’ve been here, and that’s beating Air Force ... it was a big win for us,” Boise State fourth-year coach Bryan Harsin said. “Any time you’ve been beaten by a team numerous times, it feels good.”
By virtue of Fresno State’s 13-7 win at Wyoming on Saturday afternoon, the Broncos (9-2, 7-0 Mountain West) knew they had clinched the Mountain Division title, but they still had plenty to play for against the Falcons (4-7, 3-4).
“We want to finish this year strong, especially with Air Force, losing to them the past three years, we weren’t going to let up at all,” Boise State junior quarterback Brett Rypien said, adding “we’ve been looking forward to this game for a long time.”
Boise State won its seventh straight game and forced three turnovers while not giving any away. The Broncos scored on their first four drives and got a defensive touchdown on a 21-yard return by cornerback Tyler Horton for a 27-7 lead with 9 minutes, 22 seconds until halftime.
“We ended up 3-0 on turnovers against a really good team,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “They don’t need assistance with as good as they are.”
Air Force’s triple-option attack was held to 181 rushing yards, the fewest the Falcons have had in six games against Boise State. They were kept in check with three plays of more than 20 yards, and averaged 3.5 yards per rushing attempt.
“It’s no secret they’ve had our number the past few years, but we were able to come out and play our game the way we wanted to,” sophomore safety Kekoa Nawahine said. “... If you’re able to limit a triple option team to numbers like that, then you’re able to take away their strengths and make them play a game they don’t necessarily want to play.”
On offense, the Broncos countered with big plays of their own, including an 87-yard touchdown pass from Rypien to wide receiver A.J. Richardson in the first quarter. The pass was tied for the fourth-longest in school history, and sparked an offense that averaged 7.8 yards per play, picking up 428 yards on 55 plays.
The Broncos got a trio of field goals from Haden Hoggarth, and four different players scored touchdowns. Rypien threw for 300 yards, completing 16-of-22 passes with three touchdowns, while Richardson (123) and Cedrick Wilson (107) went over 100 yards receiving.
“The focus going in was to give them a shot (on deep balls), give them a chance so they can try to make a play ... we hit a few of them, which was nice,” Rypien said.
The Broncos’ offense did not punt until the fourth quarter and converted 6-of-12 third downs. Boise State had been 14-of-50 in the three-game losing streak to Air Force.
“We were 1-of-12 last year on third down, so that’s not very good,” Harsin said. “This year, we were 50 percent. ... That’s probably the biggest difference in the game.”
The Broncos will hit the road next Saturday to close the regular season at Fresno State (1:30 p.m. MT, CBS Sports Network).
Then, they will play Fresno State in the championship game at 5:45 p.m. MT Dec. 2. The two former Western Athletic Conference rivals have not played since 2014, but will now meet twice in a week.
And despite the pageantry of senior day before Saturday’s game, it probably won’t be the seniors’ last time at home. The Broncos are the likely hosts for the championship game.
“They definitely knew, when they all got to say something to us, they pretty much told us, ‘This isn’t our last home game,’ ” Richardson said. “... They said we have a goal to get and we want to play here.”
MOUNTAIN WEST CHAMPIONSHIP TICKET INFORMATION
Boise State is ranked No. 25 in the College Football Playoff, and far ahead of Fresno State in the computer polls used by the conference. Thus, the Broncos in all likelihood will host Dec. 2.
Tickets are on sale to the general public at BroncoSports.com/tickets. They can be purchased online, by phone at 208-426-4737 or in person at the Athletic Ticket Office located on the west side of Albertsons Stadium. The ticket office will be open from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
If Boise State does not host, purchases will be refunded to the credit card used. Tickets are $40 in the main stadium and south end zone, and $20 in the north end zone. Student tickets are free, and student guest tickets are available for $9. Student ticket reservations will begin at 8 a.m. Monday, Nov. 27.