That was a weird game — again.
It’s become the theme for the 2018 Boise State football team, particularly over the past five weeks as the Broncos have saved their season time after time.
“Just finding a way,” coach Bryan Harsin said after the Broncos stormed back to stun No. 16 Fresno State 24-17 on Friday night at Albertsons Stadium.
The Broncos beat a ranked team in November for the first time in school history, regained the Milk Can rivalry trophy they lost last year in Fresno and — most importantly — improved to 5-1 in Mountain West play to keep their title hopes alive.
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They accomplished all that despite falling into a seemingly inescapable, 17-3 hole early in the third quarter and with help from the two most-maligned facets of the team — the run game (Alexander Mattison’s 144 rushing yards and two TDs) and special teams (Avery Williams’ blocked field goal).
Predictable, these Broncos certainly aren’t.
“The one thing that our offense has done well is battle,” senior quarterback Brett Rypien said. “That showed again tonight. ... We kind of knew it was a do-or-die situation, and we stepped up and made plays. That’s definitely something you want to see down the stretch.”
That Boise State will play meaningful football the last two weeks of the regular season is a testament to the will of these players. It’s also a mild surprise, given the weekly stretches of baffling football the Broncos continue to overcome.
Their five-game winning streak began in Reno, where Rypien threw three interceptions and the Broncos were tied 24-24 in the third quarter. But a 41-yard TD pass from Rypien to A.J. Richardson, a shutout fourth quarter from the defense and a clutch fourth-down completion closed out the Wolf Pack.
The second win, 56-28 at home against Colorado State, lacked drama but still had some strange in it. The Broncos got outgained by the Rams and allowed four TD drives of at least 75 yards after building a 35-0 lead.
Next up was the trip to Air Force, where the Broncos surrendered 28 first-half points but played stingy defense in the second half. Rypien sealed that one with a 61-yard touchdown pass to John Hightower in the final 4 minutes — when everyone figured they’d just milk the clock.
Then there was BYU, a game that saw Boise State jump out to a quick 14-0 lead, shut down offensively and hang on for a 21-16 win by sacking quarterback Zach Wilson on the Broncos’ 4-yard line on the final snap.
It all made predictions for Friday’s showdown with Fresno State a silly endeavor.
You could see an outmanned Broncos team succumbing to too many injuries, particularly on defense, and the combination of an inconsistent offense and mistake-prone special teams. That’s the team that played the first 34 minutes — marked by squandered scoring opportunities, bad penalties, a missed field goal, a botched fake field goal and an interception.
You could see an inspired Broncos team re-asserting its dominance of Fresno State. That’s the team that played the final 26 minutes — scoring touchdowns on three straight drives and stopping all five third- or fourth-down attempts by the Bulldogs.
And you could see something completely inexplicable happening — and, well, that happened, too. The game ended, essentially, when the officials ruled the Broncos were short of the game-clinching first down, reviewed the play and left the spot unchanged, decided to measure and gave the Broncos the first down after all.
Just another head-shaking moment in a season full of them — which makes you wonder what’s coming next.
The Broncos play next Friday at 3-6 New Mexico, a game that should be drama-free but somehow won’t be. A win would set up a Mountain Division-deciding battle with No. 14 Utah State on Nov. 24 at Albertsons Stadium.
Who knows how that game might play out — but I’m eager to find out.
“We’ve been in some tight ones — I’m sure not everybody likes that,” Rypien said. “But, for us, a win’s a win, and especially against a great team like Fresno. At this point, we’re in a win-out situation.”
Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman’s sports columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @chaddcripe on Twitter.