Senior linebacker Tyler Gray spent most of his career as a co-starter in the shadow of more highly touted linebackers.
On Wednesday, he might have been the defensive star of the Poinsettia Bowl.
Gray led the Broncos with seven tackles. He also forced a fumble and recovered two fumbles, contributing to all of the turnovers committed by Northern Illinois.
“You’re not on the field all the time,” he said. “When you do get out there, you have to make it count. And that’s what I’ve been able to do.”
Gray (6-foot-4, 232 pounds) ends his career with 191 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, five sacks, six forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, 11 pass breakups and three interceptions.
He made his 17th career start as BSU used a three-linebacker alignment.
“Just to see that kid come along and take the next step, I’m proud of him,” defensive coordinator Marcel Yates said. “I know he wanted to play at the next level and between (linebackers coach Andy Avalos) and myself, I sat him down and said, ‘Hey, if you want to have the opportunity to play at the next level ... .’ He had to play good these last few games, and I think he did.”
MCNICHOLS’ QUICK STRIKE
Sophomore tailback Jeremy McNichols made a 39-yard catch on the second play from scrimmage and followed with a 29-yard romp up the middle into the end zone.
The touchdown came 58 seconds into the game — the fastest in Poinsettia Bowl history and the second-fastest in Boise State’s bowl history. The only time the Broncos scored faster in a bowl was when Doug Martin returned the opening kickoff for a TD in the 2011 MAACO Bowl against Arizona State.
McNichols extended his Mountain West record to 12 straight games with a rushing touchdown — every game in which he appeared this year.
He added two more first-quarter touchdowns to tie Kenneth Dixon of Louisiana Tech for the national lead with 26. Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry of Alabama has 23 and could play two more games.
McNichols finished with 93 rushing yards and 96 receiving yards. His streak of seven straight 100-yard rushing performances ended.
“It was good, but it was a team effort — starting with the offensive line,” McNichols said.
RAUSA’S RECORD YEAR
Junior kicker Tyler Rausa broke the Mountain West single-season scoring record for kickers with his second PAT in the Poinsettia Bowl. He finished with 135 points.
He broke the school’s single-season record for field goals made with a 27-yarder in the third quarter, his second field goal of the game. Rausa made 25 this season. Tyler Jones made 24 in 2004, when he was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award.
A TIE FOR SPERBECK
Junior wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck collected six catches for 78 yards — tying the school record for receptions in a season with 88. Matt Miller set the record in 2013.
Sperbeck established a school record with 1,412 receiving yards on the season. He caught eight touchdown passes.
CORREA’S DECISION PENDING
Junior defensive end Kamalei Correa recorded two sacks, four tackles and a forced fumble to earn defensive MVP honors in the Poinsettia Bowl.
The Idaho Statesman reported Tuesday night that Correa will leave early for the NFL, but he said he needs to speak with his family before making a final decision.
Boise State wore blue pants, white jerseys and blue helmets. ... Boise State’s single-game captains were RB Jack Fields and DT Justin Taimatuia. ... The officials were from the Sun Belt. ... Linebacker Darren Lee carried the Hammer. ... Northern Illinois won the coin toss and deferred. ... Official attendance: 21,501. ... The Boise State senior class collected its 40th win, the 14th straight class to win that many games. The 2016 seniors need 11 wins to hit that mark. ... The Broncos are 11-5 in bowl games.