Before the No. 21 Boise State football team rallied to a 52-42 win at San Jose State on Saturday, the Broncos got a visit from an NFL legend.
Former San Francisco 49ers safety Ronnie Lott spoke to the team before the game and his message resonated with the Broncos.
“He’s just one of those guys who loves football and would die on the field,” Boise State STUD Curtis Weaver said. “You can just tell his passion for the game is different. It was like he wanted to come on the field with us. We used it as a spark.”
The defense needed that spark on Saturday as San Jose State jumped out to an early 14-point lead. Quarterback Josh Love threw for 292 yards in the first half alone, and the Spartans moved the ball and the chains at will.
San Jose State converted five of its first six third-down attempts and finished the game 7-of-13. The Spartans converted third downs four times on their second scoring drive alone, but the Broncos (7-1, 4-0 MWC) remembered Lott’s words.
“He basically told us, ‘Be great for each other,’ ” Boise State nickel Kekaula Kaniho said. “We remembered that, and that’s one thing our team does a great job of. We’re a family on and off the field.”
The Broncos’ defense struggled with the Spartans’ high-powered passing attack all night, but two key third-down stops helped Boise State stem the tide enough to get back in the game after San Jose State jumped out to a 17-7 lead.
Boise State’s first three-and-out came in the final minute of the first quarter and immediately led to points. After Love was long on a third-down pass to Bailey Gaither, Broncos cornerback Avery Williams took the ensuing punt 66 yards to the house to cut the Spartans’ lead to 14-7.
The defense knocked the Spartans off the field in three plays again with a little less than 9:00 left in the third quarter. The offense made the most of it with a nine-play scoring drive. It was capped by backup quarterback Chase Cord’s 8-yard touchdown run, which gave Boise State its first lead of the night.
“You know, there’s a lot of valuable lessons along the way,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said, referencing the absence of stadium seats behind the Broncos’ bench. “Tonight, it was one of those where we had every opportunity to win it, and they took advantage of it. The energy piece, we had to bring it. We had to bring our own energy on that side of the field, and those guys did it.”
Harsin said he could see that energy building in his players throughout Lott’s pregame talk.
“What I took away from it, the love of the game,” Harsin said. “There’s some guys that are just different when it comes to something they truly love. … About in one minute, you could see why this guy was successful. He loved the game and still loves it.”
Lott isn’t the first NFL legend to speak to the Broncos this year. Former Raiders running back Bo Jackson spoke to the team in the spring. But Weaver called Lott’s talk “mind blowing,” and said Lott was so intense during his speech that he was close to tears.
Weaver was still riding high from the talk when he recorded his only sack of the night with Boise State clinging to a 38-34 lead and San Jose State facing third-and-17 with less than 10:00 to play.
Williams back in the end zone
The only player on the Boise State sideline who may have been more elated than Williams about his punt return for a touchdown was wide receiver John Hightower.
“I almost ran on the field, but I knew I couldn’t,” Hightower said after the game.
Williams scored the Broncos’ first points of the game with a 66-yard punt return. It was his third career punt return for a touchdown and his fourth career special teams touchdown. He also returned an onside kick 44 yards for a score last season against Colorado State.
Williams caught the punt at the Broncos’ 34-yard line and immediately sprinted to his left, delivering a stiff arm to a would-be tackler along the way. He followed a convoy of blockers down the Boise State sideline, hopped over a defender and was almost corralled at the Spartans’ 10, but he managed to squirt through and into the end zone.
“That was something that we hoped we could get done, just give him a chance,” Harsin said. “And he was able to really create the momentum in the first half, and that was what we needed. You talk about game-changing special teams plays. That became the kicker that started everything and the momentum we were able to take into halftime.”
Bachmeier returns, three starters out
True freshman quarterback Hank Bachmeier returned to the starting lineup on Saturday night.
Bachmeier exited the Broncos’ win over Hawaii on Oct. 12 with a hip injury and missed Boise State’s 28-25 loss to BYU. Backup Chase Cord started against the Cougars and finished 18-of-31 for 185 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Bachmeier was 6-0 in his college career before the injury and improved to 7-0 against San Jose State.
The Broncos were down three other starters on Saturday. Running back Robert Mahone and safety Kekoa Nawahine were injured in the first half of the loss to BYU, while offensive lineman John Molchon’s absence was a surprise.
Mahone’s injury meant more work for freshman running back George Holani, who posted 97 yards on the ground against BYU and a career-high 126 yards and four touchdowns against the Spartans. It also meant more carries for sophomore Andrew Van Buren, who added a career-high 85 yards and scored on a 32-yard touchdown run.
Defensively, Jordan Happle stepped in for Nawahine.
Molchon, the left guard and a captain, also had started at left tackle and right tackle this season because of injuries on the offensive line. He was wearing a protective boot on his right foot before the game. Junior Jake Stetz replaced Molchon, making his second start. It was the fifth starting lineup in eight games this season on the offensive line.
Bachmeier exits briefly
Bachmeier left the game in the third quarter after taking a big hit at the end of an 18-yard scramble for a first down on third-and-15. The run set up a touchdown.
Bachmeier went into the injury tent, came out, shook his throwing arm and tried throwing passes, then went to the locker room. Cord took over briefly but Bachmeier returned for the start of the fourth quarter. He finished the game 13-of-17 for 213 yards and one interception.
Boise State wore all white but with an orange helmet decal. ... San Jose State won the coin toss and took the ball. ... San Jose State punter Alex Galland played the trumpet with the Spartans’ marching band during the national anthem. ... Bruno DeRose carried the Dan Paul Hammer. Curtis Weaver carried the American flag and Holani carried the Bleed Blue banner. ... San Jose State was without linebacker Jesse Osuna for the first half. He was ejected for targeting in the fourth quarter of the Spartans’ win over Army. Osuna led the Spartans with three sacks and was fourth on the team with 51 tackles entering the game. Osuna returned in the second half but was ejected for targeting again with 10:09 left in the third quarter. ... Boise State improved to 14-0 all-time vs. San Jose State. ... Williams was Boise State’s single-game captain. ... Boise State has won two road games after trailing at halftime in a season (Florida State, San Jose State) for the first time since 2005, and two when trailing entering the fourth quarter for the first time since 1990.