There was no other way it could end.
Even when the Boise State football team jumped out to an early 14-point lead, fingernails were bound to be gnawed, blood pressures to be raised.
Three of the Broncos’ four games prior to Saturday against BYU at Albertsons Stadium had been decided by one point. So, when the Cougars were driving late, trailing 21-16 with the ball at Boise State’s 2-yard line with 7 seconds left, much clenching was taking place for those watching at home and the 35,241 in attendance.
“Tense is selling it pretty lightly — just another crazy game,” Boise State senior quarterback Brett Rypien told reporters after the game.
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But as they have done every time on the Blue against BYU, the Broncos did enough to leave victorious.
Linebacker Tyson Maeva and defensive tackle Scale Igiehon smothered Cougar freshman quarterback Zach Wilson for a 2-yard loss as the clock ran out, sending Boise State’s sideline rushing across the field toward BYU’s in a euphoric dash.
Boise State (7-2 overall) frequently bent but didn’t break, as BYU (4-5) got inside the Boise State 30-yard line eight times, but got three field goals and one touchdown.
“We were facing adversity ... we stepped up big tonight,” senior STUD end Jabril Frazier said. “We expected them to roll out, we had pressure from the (edge) and our guys did a great job getting to the quarterback.
“I felt like we were in the end zone, we had our backs against the wall. I’m just happy we got the stop.”
As if Boise State needed any inspiration for the game that may or may not be a rivalry, the Broncos found it before kickoff.
When BYU ran onto the field, one alumnus who carried a flag alongside the team planted it at midfield on the Boise State logo.
“I didn’t really appreciate what happened before the game with the guy sticking the flag in the middle of the field,” Rypien said. “... I think that kind of got us fired up a little bit and so to come out with the win there is nice.”
Frazier said it was “disrespectful,” but Boise State coach Bryan Harsin laughed it off, saying he didn’t see it happen.
“Obviously it didn’t stick, so it wasn’t that big of a deal,” he said.
Though Boise State owns a 7-2 mark against BYU, another close chapter, along with a little bit of “shenanigans,” as Harsin called them, will keep the series between the two spicy.
“Definitely,” junior running back Alexander Mattison said.
Certainly adding a flair to the next few meetings will be Wilson, who gave the Broncos headaches all night with his mobility and accurate passing. Wilson was committed to Boise State for six months, eventually backing off last December a week before signing day and choosing the Cougars. He was 18-of-27 for 252 yards and rushed for 36 yards and a score though he was sacked seven times.
On the final play, he said if no receivers were open, he was to throw out of the back of the end zone, but he tried to keep the play alive before being swallowed up, ending the game as the Cougars were out of timeouts.
“A freshman mistake, I guess people would call it, but I have to know that,” Wilson said. “I have to hold myself accountable and make that play right there and it’s too bad we came up short.”
A Wilson pass set up the nerve-wracking finish, as he tossed a screen to running back Matt Hadley with 2 minutes left that saw Hadley weave through the Boise State defense for 59 yards down to the Broncos’ 24. Three plays later, the Cougars were at the Broncos’ 5 and Harsin was thinking of his offense needing “some type of miracle play” if BYU scored.
“He went for a lot of yards, they’re down in the red zone, at that point, it was like ‘this is gonna be one of those games,’ ” Harsin said.
It truly was one of those games, a fitting new entry in the series, and one that will give Boise State plenty to think about.
The Broncos scored on their first two drives to take a 14-0 lead into the second quarter, but only mustered a single score on their last nine drives, with a missed field goal, an interception, a lost fumble and a failed fourth down sprinkled in. However, that scoring drive was vital after Wilson’s 4-yard touchdown run cut the lead to 14-13 with 9:46 left in the third quarter.
Boise State marched down the field on a 16-play, 79-yard drive that covered 8 minutes, 2 seconds and was capped by a 3-yard Mattison run. That proved to give the Broncos all the points they would need, though they could not seal it while having the ball with 3:19 to play at their own 36-yard line.
The Broncos rushed three times, one going out of bounds, and BYU burned two timeouts. On a third-and-10, Rypien tried to hit senior wide receiver Sean Modster on a deep ball, but couldn’t connect. Such a play worked to finish off Air Force a week earlier, and Harsin thought running the ball would’ve only burned off a few seconds. And surely, there would be complaints about being conservative.
“I wanted a shot, I wanted the go ball, that falls solely on me. It worked before ... the opportunity for a big play, I thought it was worth it,” Harsin said.
Though they were outgained 388-327, had 81 yards of penalties and had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown called back for a penalty, the Broncos were plenty happy to walk away with the win, as red-hot Fresno State visits Friday.
“Winning these close games, I think builds more team chemistry and camaraderie than blowing people out by 40,” Rypien said. “Maybe it’s not as pretty as everybody wants it to be, but at the end of the day we’re winning and we’re winning tough games, which is what you want coming down the later half of the season, especially when we’ve got some big games coming up here.”