Well, it was everything Boise State fans could hope for — a win over a ranked team, the battle everyone expected, and the home team came out on top.
The Broncos’ 24-17 win over AP No. 16 Fresno State on Friday night at Albertsons Stadium was typical of this season’s team, some truly impressive stretches mixed with some aggravating ones. Luckily for Boise State, the good came during a dominating final 25 minutes.
Boise State scored the final 21 points, then made a stand on Fresno State’s final possession inside the Broncos’ 30-yard line.
“We have done that a little bit this year, but not much, not the way we did tonight,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “Tonight was about putting up 14 (fourth-quarter) points and holding them to none. That’s just a credit to our team.”
The win keeps Boise State’s hopes to repeat as Mountain West champions very much alive, as the Broncos play at New Mexico next Friday. If they beat the Lobos, and then a likely top-15 Utah State on Nov. 24, the Broncos would be in the conference championship game, perhaps against the Bulldogs. Fresno State linebacker George Helmuth said afterward, “We might be here in (three) weeks.”
Yes, Boise State had the ball five times in Fresno State territory in the first half and came away with the just three points. The Broncos tried a flea flicker, a wide receiver pass and a fake field goal in the first half, none being very effective.
In the second half, Boise State’s offense looked more like Boise State’s offense, no need for trickery, as the Broncos just ran it straight at the Bulldogs.
“The message was finish,” senior quarterback Brett Rypien said. “We hadn’t really made any catastrophic mistakes up to that ... it just came down to finding a way in the red zone, willing your way into the end zone and finishing those drives.”
Junior running back Alexander Mattison’s gritty 30-carry, 144-yard, two-TD performance was the difference in the second half, and gave him the top rushing output of the season against the Bulldogs. Rypien said Mattison “was unbelievable.”
Fresno State allowed a season-high 448 yards of offense, and the Broncos got two long pass plays — the last the game-winner on a 49-yard touchdown strike from Rypien to freshman receiver Khalil Shakir with 9:22 to play.
Considering the amount of injuries on defense, it figured to be a difficult night for the Broncos. Instead, the stress fell on the Bulldogs.
Fresno State scored just 17 points — its second lowest total this season — after coming in averaging 40.4 points per game; was 2-of-10 on third downs; and allowed three sacks after having yielded just five in the Bulldogs’ nine games entering Friday.
“We knew we were going to have to take it to another level this week,” Boise State sophomore cornerback Avery Williams said.
The Broncos certainly did, even though Fresno State quarterback Marcus McMaryion threw for 283 yards on 24-of-35 passing, he was only able to get inside the red zone twice. The Bulldogs’ Ronnie Rivers scored on a 1-yard touchdown run 3:18 into the third quarter for a 17-3 lead, but they got 139 yards on four drives afterward, failing to score again.
“I feel like it was our willingness to fight, especially against a team like this,” junior linebacker Tyson Maeva said. “Coming out of the second half with a touchdown, it’s definitely not how we wanted to start. ... I saw the defense didn’t have the look in their eye like they were giving up, they still had that fight in their eyes. That was the most impressive thing I saw with our defense.”
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus
It was an adventure, as usual, for the Broncos in the kicking game. Low snaps, botched fakes, missed kicks, it was all there. Kicker Haden Hoggarth missed his first attempt of the game, albeit from 50 yards, made his second attempt, and on the third, holder Quinn Skillin’s pitch to Hoggarth on a fake was mishandled, so the kicker was swallowed up before the first-down marker.
But it wasn’t a total disaster — Williams played the savior. The sophomore, who has been a marvel as a punt returner but also has run back an onside kick for a touchdown and broke up McMaryion’s final pass, blocked Asa Fuller’s 50-yard attempt with 7 minutes left to keep Boise State ahead 24-17.