Bronco Beat

Boise State beats Washington State 31-28 in tense battle

Boise State running back Jeremy McNichols (13) scores on a 1-yard run against Washington State on Saturday night at Albertsons Stadium.
Boise State running back Jeremy McNichols (13) scores on a 1-yard run against Washington State on Saturday night at Albertsons Stadium. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

On the verge of another win over a Pac-12 team on its home field, Boise State nearly crumbled in the final minutes.

Fortunately the Broncos did enough over the first three quarter to hold on.

Jeremy McNichols rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns, Tyler Horton returned his first career interception 85 yards for a touchdown and Boise State held on in the fourth quarter for a 31-28 win over Washington State on Saturday night.

Brett Rypien threw for 299 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown to Thomas Sperbeck, but was intercepted twice in the fourth quarter, giving Washington State chances until the final play when Luke Falk’s desperation heave was batted down.

Boise State (2-0) won its 34th straight regular season non-conference home game, knocking off the last out of conference team to win on “The Blue.”

“We did not face adversity in our first game. … We got a chance to do that tonight,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.

Falk was 55-of-71 passing for 480 yards and four touchdowns, but it took three quarters before he could beat the Broncos throwing downfield, hitting Tavares Martin Jr. on a 50-yard TD late in the third quarter that pulled the Cougars within 24-14. Rypien quickly answered, completing three straight passes for 68 yards before McNichols’ second touchdown run pushed the Broncos lead 31-14 on the first play of the fourth quarter.

That proved to be enough – barely.

“There were definitely some uncharacteristic mistakes I made tonight,” Rypien said. “But we won. We’re 2-0.”

Falk rallied in the fourth quarter, throwing touchdown passes of 14 yards – on fourth down – to Jamal Morrow and hitting Gabe Marks on a 33-yard TD with 4:17 left right after Rypien was intercepted to pull within 31-28. Washington State got the ball back with a minute remaining after poor clock management by the Broncos, but the Cougars had their own problems with the clock and settled for Falk’s final throw that fell short.

Leach ripped into his team’s toughness after the loss, saying the Cougars outplayed Boise State in every other category.

“We outperformed them in a ton of different ways but we’re not tough enough,” Leach said. “And as a football team we have to get (a lot) tougher and right now we’re not very tough.”

Washington State (0-2) was trying to match what it did in 2001 when the Cougars won 41-20 in Boise and rebound from being stunned by FCS power Eastern Washington in last week’s opener. But the Cougars got off to an awful start with Falk getting intercepted on their opening drive deep in Boise State territory and watching Horton manage to stay inbound and sprint 85 yards to give the Broncos the early lead.

It was the first of six drives by the Cougars that reached Boise State territory and failed to end in points. The Cougars had a field goal attempt blocked, punted twice and turned the ball over on downs twice inside the Broncos half of the field, the last coming when Morrow was stuffed on fourth-and-1 at the 46 with 5:12 remaining.

- The Associated Press

SCORING UPDATE

FOURTH QUARTER

WSU—Gabe Marks 33 pass from Luke Falk (Erik Powell kick), 4:17. Key plays: Shalom Luani intercepted Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien near midfield, returning it to the 33, the next play, Falk lofted it over cornerback Jonathan Moxey to his favorite target in the back of the end zone. Drive: 1 plays, 33 yards, 0:07 elapsed. Boise State 31, Washington State 28

WSU—Jamal Morrow 14 pass from Luke Falk (Erik Powell kick), 11:34. Key plays: A 15-yard pass interference penalty on Boise State’s Chanceller James moved the ball from the Broncos’ 44 to the 29; Falk found Morrow for the score on a fourth-and-6 pass, scrambling out of the pocket to keep the play alive. Drive: 9 plays, 75 yards, 3:20 elapsed. Boise State 31, Washington State 21

BSU—Jeremy McNichols 7 run (Tyler Rausa kick), 14:54. Key plays: Quarterback Brett Rypien completed passes of 18, 14 and 36 yards to McNichols, Thomas Sperbeck and Cedrick Wilson, respectively, to get inside the red zone. Drive: 4 plays, 75 yards, 1:01 elapsed. Boise State 31, Washington State 14

THIRD QUARTER

WSU—Tavares Martin Jr. 50 pass from Luke Falk (Erik Powell kick), 0:55. Key plays: Washington State forced a three-and-out after a failed fourth down attempt on the Cougars’ previous drive, getting the ball to start their next drive near midfield. Drive: 2 plays, 53 yards, 0:45 elapsed. Boise State 24, Washington State 14

BSU—Thomas Sperbeck 47 pass from Brett Rypien (Tyler Rausa kick), 8:20. Key plays: After their previous five drives resulted in a total of three points, the Broncos stormed back with 36 total yards from running back Jeremy McNichols before Rypien found a wide-open Sperbeck down the seam. Drive: 4 plays, 88 yards, 1:34 elapsed. Boise State 24, Washington State 7

SECOND QUARTER

Boise State controlled most of the game in the first half, but a costly interception led to a short Washington State drive that led to the Cougars’ lone score. At the half, Washington State quarterback Luke Falk was 25-of-35 passing for 188 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien was 9-of-16 for 139 yards with an interception. Boise State linebacker Tanner Vallejo has nine tackles.

BSU—Tyler Rausa 31 field goal, 0:01. Key plays: Boise State got into field goal range with a 19-yard pass from Brett Rypien to Thomas Sperbeck, and a 40-yard deep strike to Cedrick Wilson, grabbing it over cornerback Marcellus Pippins. Drive: 5 plays, 59 yards, 0:41 elapsed. Boise State 17, Washington State 7

WSU—Jamal Morrow 11 pass from Luke Falk (Erik Powell kick), 0:42. Key plays: The Cougars got the ball deep in Boise State territory thanks to a Shalom Luani interception and 28-yard return. Drive: 6 plays, 26 yards, 2:30 elapsed. Boise State 14, Washington State 7

FIRST QUARTER

Boise State bent, but never broke, despite being outgained, the Broncos used a defensive touchdown and a methodical offensive drive to take the lead into the second quarter. Washington State outgained the Broncos 107-83, but were kept off the scoreboard.

BSU—Jeremy McNichols 1 run (Tyler Rausa kick), 2:15. Key plays: Quarterback Brett Rypien hit receiver Thomas Sperbeck for a 12-yard reception on third-and-8 on the drive’s third play; Rypien was 4-for-4 for 56 yards on the drive. Drive: 13 plays, 88 yards, 5:22 elapsed. Boise State 14, Washington State 0

BSU—Tyler Horton 85 interception return (Tyler Rausa kick), 10:11. Key plays: Washington State had mounted a 12-play, 57-yard drive in which quarterback Luke Falk was 6-of-8 passing before sophomore cornerback Tyler Horton stepped in front of a pass intended for receiver Robert Lewis for his first career interception, then took it all the way for the score. Drive: none. Boise State 7, Washington State 0

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PREGAME

Boise State will be without five players for Saturday’s home opener against Washington State.

Junior linebacker Joe Martarano, who left the season opener at Louisiana with a knee injury, is out. Junior tight end Jake Roh, who missed the season opener at Louisiana, was not suited up for tonight’s game. Boise State also said junior quarterback Tommy Stuart, redshirt freshman defensive end Sam Whitney and junior safety Kameron Miles will not play. No reason, if it were suspension or injury, was given.

Sophomore tight end Jake Knight has switched numbers, going from 93 to 84.

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Boise State will host Washington State at 8:15 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2. It will air on ESPNNews until the conclusion of the game currently on ESPN2, which had a weather delay. Follow along tonight for game and scoring updates.

Live Blog Boise State-Washington State live coverage
 

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The New York Times posted a story Saturday about how Boise State is the gatekeeper of non-green playing fields.

Check out both teams’ depth charts here.

My game breakdown in today’s Statesman:

WHEN THE BRONCOS HAVE THE BALL

Hurry it up: Eastern Washington used an up-tempo approach to keep Washington State on its heels in a 45-42 upset last week, running 66 plays in 27:43 of possession time. Boise State ran 73 plays in 29:14 at Louisiana, and will again try to keep an aggressive approach.

“The tempo was big for them, getting on those guys,” Boise State co-offensive coordinator Zak Hill said.

Grind house: The Broncos will try to establish the run off the bat, and they will use their stable of backs from junior Jeremy McNichols to senior Devan Demas and freshman Alexander Mattison. They ran for 158 yards at Louisiana — a decent amount, but room for improvement. Washington State was 95th in the nation against the run last season, giving up 193.3 yards per game. Getting the run game going also will help keep the high-powered WSU offense off the field.

“There’s always really room for improvement. We didn’t really reach our standard,” Boise State junior center Mason Hampton said.

WHEN THE COUGARS HAVE THE BALL

Mine your options: The Cougars had 10 players with at least two receptions against Eastern Washington, and 10 players caught more than 20 passes last season. Their four- and five-receiver sets will spread out and test the relatively unproven BSU secondary.

“We have to be on our toes. ... They rotate from the 1s to the 2s, and there’s no dropoff, so we just have to be ready, no matter who has the ball,” BSU cornerback Jonathan Moxey said.

Stay patient: It’s death by a thousand cuts often for the Cougars, throwing short pass after short pass, then springing a long one on an unsuspecting defense or letting receivers take a quick pass, break a tackle and break a big gain. Of the 27 teams that threw for 300 yards or more, Washington State’s 10.2 yards per completion was second fewest.

“We’re a team that can do some explosive things, but we’re also a team that needs to be consistent,” Leach said.

SPECIAL TEAMS

A step up? The Cougars were among the worst special teams units early in Leach’s tenure, but they had some positive moments last season, making 20-of-26 field goals. However, they also allowed two kick return and two punt return touchdowns. WSU’s two punters, Zach Charme (Timberline High) and Kyle Sweet, averaged 44.8 yards per punt against Eastern Washington.

“What we saw in this last game, went back and watched the film from last year, a very good special teams unit,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “Because it’s early in the year, we still have to plan for the unexpected.”

Chance to rebound: Boise State senior Tyler Rausa, who made 25-of-30 field goals last season, missed his first kick of 2016, a 42-yarder. He made a 30-yarder later in the game against Louisiana. Cougar kicker Erik Powell also is hoping to have a better day after he missed a 38-yarder in the fourth quarter of their 45-42 loss.

“Rausa’s a competitor, so when that happens, he’s certainly going to come back and compete,” Harsin said.

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Check out this week’s stories:

Game-day guide for fans

Boise State quarterback Rypien eager to face his uncle’s alma mater

Boise State assistants had extra insight into Eastern Washington upset

Check out our Boise State football live chat replay

Wilson’s way: Boise State receiver has always made a quick impact

Boise State braces for Cougars’ pass-heavy offense

BSU linebacker Joe Martarano’s injury likely not severe

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