Boise State Football

Boise State’s Hightower, Holani have highlight-filled nights; Broncos set attendance record

Boise State’s Akilian Butler said last week that fellow wide receiver John Hightower has an arm and that he’s been throwing in practice.

In the second half of Saturday’s 59-37 win over Hawaii, Hightower took the ball on a reverse and pulled up like he was going to throw. He stayed conservative, though, and carried the ball around the right side instead.

“I was really close,” Hightower said of throwing the ball. “It looked like it was open, but then again it didn’t look like it was open, so I didn’t want to take a chance.”

Hightower also lined up at quarterback, as he did the previous week at UNLV on a reverse that went for a touchdown. The Broncos showed a similar look in the second quarter against Hawaii, and this time Hightower handed the ball off to Robert Mahone, who scored from 13 yards out for a 31-7 lead.

Hightower took five snaps Saturday night, and he was one of five Boise State players to get at least one. Quarterbacks Hank Bachmeier, Chase Cord and Jaylon Henderson got turns running the offense, and wide receiver Khalil Shakir took a direct snap and scored the first touchdown of the game.

Seeing that many teammates get their hands on the ball put a smile on Hightower’s face.

“I really get excited when different people do different stuff,” Hightower said. “It brings joy to me.”

[Related: Turnovers key in Boise State win; Harsin sheds some light on Bachmeier injury; Instant Analysis: Boise State backup QBs prove their value; scoring summary]

Hightower also posted season highs in receptions (seven), receiving yards (141) and receiving touchdowns (two). The best performance of his Boise State career came last year with eight receptions for 182 yards and three touchdowns against Air Force.

He consistently got behind the Hawaii defense and was one of the fastest players on the field. Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said Hightower was also one of the most intelligent.

“John is one of the more intelligent football players we’ve had here,” Harsin said. “And he is able to handle things of getting back there and playing quarterback, calling the play. He understands our offense, and he can go run and catch a big play for a touchdown and then go back there and play quarterback, so he gives you a lot of versatility.”

Boise State running back George Holani (24) hits the end zone pylon on a rushing touchdown while he’s defended by Hawaii defensive back Rojesterman Farris II (4) in the third quarter Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019 at Albertsons Stadium in Boise. Darin Oswald

Holani makes history

Freshman running back George Holani went into Saturday’s game without a touchdown. He ended the game with three and made a little history along the way.

On a night when the Broncos honored former fullback Dan Paul by naming their iconic Hammer after him, Holani became the first Boise State back to catch two touchdowns in a game since Paul caught three in a 2009 game against Nevada. Paul died in July.

Holani’s first touchdown reception was on a short pass from third-string quarterback Jaylon Henderson. He made two tacklers miss and dove for the pylon for a 45-14 lead. It was the first time a Boise State running back caught a touchdown pass in a game since 2017.

His second touchdown through the air came on a pass to the sideline, and he lowered his shoulder and drove through a defender to get to the end zone.

“He’s been a physical runner. I think probably tonight showed more in the end zone,” Harsin said. “He hasn’t had the chance to do that as much, but he will finish runs, he is physical, he is determined. He’s going to find a way if it’s a short-yardage play or third and whatever we need to get.”

Holani showed a burst on his final touchdown. He took a handoff up the middle and disappeared into a mob of defenders before bursting out the other side and sprinting 40 yards to the end zone.

“He understands where the sticks are, and then tonight it happened to be the end zone,” Harsin said. “Just punching it in and finding a way to get a score.”

Boise State gets first sellout in four years

Boise State sold out the homecoming game against Hawaii. The announced attendance of 36,902 also set the school record. The previous mark lasted seven years — 36,864 for the 2012 game against BYU. This also was the first home sellout for the Broncos since the 2015 game against Washington.

Men’s basketball: Alston shines in scrimmage

Redshirt junior guard Derrick Alston stole the show during the Broncos’ intrasquad scrimmage Saturday in Bronco Gym.

Alston won the team’s dunk contest with a 360-degree, one-handed dunk. The 6-foot-9 NBA prospect then led Team Gray to a 50-42 victory over Team Blue with a game-high 18 points, including three 3-pointers. Arizona transfer Emmanuel Akot (14) and senior Justinian Jessup (10) also reached double-digit scoring for Team Gray. Akot’s status for this season still has not been decided by the NCAA.

“I think right now we kind of have a mentality of maybe like a preseason NBA team the way we play,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “I think our offense looks pretty good. We’ve got a lot of work to do on defense, especially in the next two weeks. It’s coming quick.”

Senior forward RJ Williams was the top scorer for Team Blue with 11 points, and Portland transfer Marcus Shaver, Jr. — who will have to sit out this season — added 10 points.

Oregon transfer Abu Kigab, who will be eligible to play for the Broncos after the first semester, sat out the scrimmage with a strained hamstring.

Boise State plays an exhibition against West Coast Baptist College at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31, at ExtraMile Arena. The Broncos’ season opener is at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5, against Life Baptist. The BSU women open the doubleheader with a 5:30 p.m. contest against Lewis-Clark State College.

“I think we’ll have some tools to be able to do some things this year that we haven’t been able to do in the past, but we gotta get our defense to catch up now,” Rice said.

Quick hits

Boise State wore white helmets with the Broncos script logo, orange jerseys and white pants. ... Nickel Kekaula Kaniho of Hawaii was Boise State’s single-game captain. ... Boise State held a moment of silence for former track and field star and Olympian Jarred Rome before the game. ... Long snapper Daniel Cantrell carried the Hammer. ... Safety DeAndre Pierce returned to the starting lineup after missing four games with an injury sustained in the opener at Florida State. ... Hawaii linebacker Jeremiah Pritchard was ejected midway through the first quarter for targeting on a tackle of Holani. Hawaii had eight penalties for 68 yards in the first quarter alone.

Related stories from Idaho Statesman

Ron Counts is the Boise State beat writer for the Idaho Statesman. He’s a Virginia native and spent that past three years covering University of Virginia.