Boise State Football

Boise State defense stuffs Wyoming with game on the line to escape with a win

During the week leading up to Boise State’s 20-17 overtime win over Wyoming on Saturday, Broncos linebacker Riley Whimpey lamented the fact that he dropped two interceptions in the previous game and wished he could get those plays back.

After kicker Eric Sachse ended the Broncos’ only overtime possession with what turned out to be the game-winning field goal, Whimpey dropped another interception, and this one would have sealed the Broncos’ win.

But he got his chance for redemption.

Two plays later, Wyoming faced a third-and-4 from Boise State’s 19-yard line. The Cowboys kept the ball on the ground with workhorse running back Xazavian Valladay, but Whimpey read the play perfectly and met him in the backfield for a 2-yard loss.

Moments later, Wyoming kicker Cooper Rothe’s 37-yard field goal flew wide right, and the Broncos flooded the field in celebration of a second straight fourth-quarter comeback win, which kept Boise State (8-1, 5-0 MW) in the driver’s seat to host the Mountain West Conference championship game.

“Just being able to regroup after that happened and come back fighting, that was the key to the game tonight, just keeping our heads up and continuing to keep fighting,” said Whimpey, who led the Broncos with 12 tackles. “I wish I could have come away with (the interception), but we came away with the win tonight and that’s all that matters.”

[Related: Harsin frustrated with offense; Instant Analysis: Kicker delivers for Broncos; Weaver, Williams make big plays; Bachmeier missed another game; scoring summary]

Whimpey also came up huge on a short-yardage play near the end of regulation. Wyoming (6-3, 3-2) faced a fourth-and-1 from Boise State’s 39 with less than a minute to play, but Whimpey said after the game that the defense knew what play was coming. He and STUD Curtis Weaver combined on a 1-yard loss to give the Broncos one more shot to score before the clock hit zero.

“Just being able to come out and mount up, and it was everybody doing their 1/11th, and I was able to come through and make a play in the backfield,” Whimpey said.

Boise State’s final drive in regulation ended with quarterback Chase Cord being intercepted. Cord — standing in for true freshman Hank Bachmeier for the second time this season -- finished the game 19-of-30 for 190 yards and a touchdown. But much like the rest of the offense, he did most of his damage on the Broncos’ first drive of the game.

The Broncos’ opening drive consisted of 12 plays and ended with wide receiver Akilian Butler catching a short pass, tiptoeing down the sideline and stretching the ball across the pylon for a 7-0 lead. Boise State didn’t even come close to running double-digit plays on another drive until Sachse capped an eight-play march with a 40-yard field goal, which tied the game at 10 with 9:18 left in the third quarter.

“It just comes down to us, our execution on every play,” Boise State wide receiver Khalil Shakir said. “(Wyoming) held their own and did their job. I’m just happy we came out on top.”

A third-quarter fumble by tailback George Holani looked like it was going to lead Wyoming to its first win over Boise State, especially after Valladay broke through the defense for a 21-yard touchdown run, which put the Cowboys on top 17-10 with 2:35 left in the third.

But Shakir played a major role in Boise State’s fourth-quarter scoring drive, and his run tied the game at 17 with 5:37 to play.

Cord hit Shakir with a 13-yard pass to move the ball into Wyoming’s red zone. Three plays later, Holani stepped in at quarterback and handed off to Shakir, who sprinted around the left side and dived into the end zone for his second rushing touchdown of the season.

“Those are guys on our team that we have that can go make plays in critical moments, and he’s certainly one of them,” Harsin said. “His impact on the game and his ability to go do things like that is huge, and we’ve got to find ways to get him the ball and we did on that drive.”

Saturday’s win was by no means a pretty one. Wide receiver John Hightower was the Broncos’ leading rusher with 38 yards, and Valladay’s 124 yards marked just the second time this season an opposing running back has cracked 100 yards. The other was Florida State’s Cam Akers in the season opener.

But Harsin said the thing about wins is they don’t have to pass the eyeball test.

“As a coach and as a fan, you’ll look at all the things that should have happened,” he said. “As a player, you’re out there just scratching and clawing and the win is the most important thing. That’s what the work from Sunday all the way through Saturday is for, that W.”

Boise State returns to Albertsons Stadium on Saturday for another Mountain West game against New Mexico (8:15 p.m., ESPN2).

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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.