Leighton Vander Esch played eight-man football for a high school with fewer than 50 students.
On Saturday night at Albertsons Stadium, the Boise State junior linebacker was in full Hulk mode wearing the Broncos’ turnover belt as he celebrated a Mountain West championship win in front of thousands of fans.
Vander Esch tied a Mountain West title-game record with 16 tackles, earning defensive MVP honors after Boise State’s 17-14 victory over Fresno State.
His interception of Fresno quarterback Marcus McMaryion with 1:50 left in the fourth quarter put the Bulldogs’ hopes of a comeback out of reach.
“I didn’t know whether to try to score or fall down,” Vander Esch said. “Sooner or later we knew the defense was going to get the ball in our hands because of just how resilient we are.”
Vander Esch started at quarterback and linebacker for Salmon River High in Riggins. He first joined the Boise State program as a walk-on and earned a scholarship in the spring of 2015. He was voted the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year this season.
“You can do anything if you put your mind to it. It’s always been my dream to play here,” Vander Esch said.
Boise State junior quarterback Brett Rypien was named the offensive MVP of Saturday’s championship. Rypien completed 16 of 30 passes for 246 yards. He hit receiver Cedrick Wilson for a 59-yard strike to spark the Broncos’ game-winning drive.
“He showed his resiliency. That’s the thing about Brett,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.
Mattison leaves with injury
Sophomore running back Alexander Mattison made quite the exit against Fresno State, but it wasn’t the kind he wanted.
Boise State’s leading rusher had to be helped off the field after a 6-yard reception with 2:44 to play in the third quarter and the Broncos down 14-10.
Mattison, who appeared to injure his left leg on the play, was seen hugging teammates prior to being loaded on a cart and taken to the Idaho Sports Medicine Institute, which is built into Albertsons Stadium.
Entering Saturday’s game, Mattison had 1,024 yards and 11 touchdowns on 195 carries — an average of 5.3 yards per touch.
Mattison totaled 50 rushing yards and a TD against the Bulldogs before the injury.
His status for Boise State’s bowl game is unknown.
BSU hoops hosts Portland
Fresh off their last-second victory at Oregon on Saturday, the Boise State men’s basketball team hosts Portland (3-4) on Sunday in a nonconference matchup.
Tipoff is 2 p.m. at Taco Bell Arena.
The Broncos, who (7-1) snapped the Ducks’ record 46-game home winning streak at Matthew Knight Arena on a halfcourt 3-pointer from Lexus Williams, won 81-71 at Portland in 2015. Last year’s scheduled game was postponed when bad weather kept the Pilots from flying to Boise.