It was one of those memorable afternoons that college football produces more than perhaps any sport.
Too many momentous plays to recount. So many new playmakers to admire. Jarring changes in emotion and momentum.
Maybe Curtis Weaver, the Boise State football team’s jovial pass rusher, could sum it all up — how the Broncos traveled across the country, moved 170 miles to a new venue on 48-hours notice, endured hot, humid air we don’t have in Idaho, overcame an 18-point deficit and overwhelmed one of the nation’s proudest football programs in the second half.
“I can’t describe it,” Weaver said of Boise State’s 36-31 win Saturday at Florida State. “I gotta think about that tonight. I’ll get back to you.”
What’s easier to articulate is what this performance means.
Buckle up, Bronco Nation. It’s time for another one of those rides that were once commonplace on the blue turf.
The Broncos have a true freshman quarterback in Hank Bachmeier who showed guts, toughness, poise and talent — or moxie, for short — in his first start. They have an emerging set of running backs who combined for 298 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns behind a veteran offensive line. They have a defense that somehow shut out the speedy Seminoles in the second half after surrendering 31 too-easy points in the first half.
And they have a schedule that lacks anyone else with Florida State-level talent.
[Related: Broncos overcome deficit in ‘exhausting’ game; Hank Bachmeier exceeds expectations; Instant Analysis: Broncos persevere after ugly start; Florida State plans to play in Boise next season; Scoring summary, live blog]
The Broncos will be back in the Top 25, perhaps as soon as next week. And they’ll be heavily featured in the debate over who belongs in a New Year’s Six bowl game — as long as they can avoid the inexplicable loss that has been their bugaboo in recent years.
They’ll also be a lot of fun to watch.
“We’re tough. We have grit,” senior offensive lineman John Molchon said after moving from left guard to right tackle to replace an injured teammate. “We believe in the coaches. I can’t tell you the things that happened in the game, or certain stats that we had. It was a long, tough, exhausting game. But I just knew that the next play mattered most and I think that’s kind of the whole team’s mentality.”
That’s how the Broncos overcame what certainly looked like an inescapable hole. Three of Florida State’s four touchdown drives in the first half lasted less than a minute, as defenders failed to tackle the Seminoles’ elusive ball carriers. The Boise State offense, meanwhile, settled for field goals on four of its five first-half scoring drives.
It was 31-13 late in the half, and 31-19 at halftime.
“We just spent so much time preparing for this game — for us to just waste it just didn’t make sense to us,” Molchon said. “... The first half, it was tough. We knew if we were going to just fall over, it would have been an embarrassment.”
The Broncos rallied through determination as much as anything. After two punts and a fumble formed a meek start to the second half, they forced a fumble and scored a total of 17 points on three drives that consumed 192 yards in 26 spirit-crushing plays.
The Seminoles, on the other hand, never gained 20 yards in eight second-half possessions.
“We’ve got a group of guys that love each other,” Boise State junior running back Robert Mahone said after his sensational debut as the featured runner. “When you’ve got a group of guys that love each other, don’t ever count us out.”
That’s the type of attitude that drove the Boise State football program to tremendous heights from 2006 to 2011, when the Broncos finished undefeated or with one loss five times. That’s also when they became known as giant killers — beating Oregon State (twice), Oklahoma, Oregon (twice), TCU, Virginia Tech, Utah (twice), Georgia and Arizona State.
Coach Bryan Harsin reminded his team of that history earlier in the week, showing players highlights of the Broncos’ 2010 win against Virginia Tech in the Washington Redskins’ stadium. That sparked a season that peaked with a No. 2 national ranking.
“It means a lot to solidify ourselves in Boise State history,” Weaver said.
Make no mistake, this wasn’t on the level of some of those wins. Florida State, which won its third national championship just six years ago, was 5-7 last season. And this Broncos team entered the season unranked after failing to win the Mountain West last season.
But what the Broncos accomplished at Doak Campbell Stadium goes well beyond records and pedigree. They dealt with the uncertainty of whether this game would be played for two days because of the ominous approach of Hurricane Dorian, bounced from the original site of Jacksonville to Tallahassee after practicing in a gym to avoid lightning and posted the largest comeback against a Power Five team in school history.
They also won a true road game against a Power Five team for just the fourth time, and improved to 5-1 in their past six games as underdogs.
“Sometimes,” Harsin said, “it just comes down to heart.”