Bronco Beat

Ajayi leads Boise State football team to blowout of Utah State

BOISE STATE 50, UTAH STATE 19

Final stats

The Boise State football team has ridden the Jay Train to the brink of a dream season.

Junior tailback Jay Ajayi rushed for a school-record-tying five touchdowns Saturday night at Albertsons Stadium to lead No. 25 Boise State to a 50-19 victory against Utah State and its conference-leading defense.

The Broncos (10-2 overall, 7-1 MW) won the Mountain West Mountain Division title for the first time and will play defending champion Fresno State in the conference championship game at 8 p.m. Saturday at Albertsons Stadium.

If the Broncos win — they have won seven straight games and haven’t lost since September — they almost certainly will be placed in a New Year’s Six bowl game, likely the Fiesta Bowl.

“It’s got the makings of a storybook ending,” senior defensive end Beau Martin said. “ For a chance to end it this way, it means everything to me.”

Ajayi carried the Broncos against the Aggies as he has during their entire winning streak. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of those victories and dominated the fourth quarters anytime the game was close.

He rushed 27 times for a career-high 229 yards and the career-high five touchdowns against a Utah State defense that ranked 16th in the nation in rushing defense. The Aggies (9-4, 6-2) also had won five straight games.

“We respected Utah State,” Ajayi said. “We respected the fact that they’re highly ranked. At the same time, we didn’t fear them. We came out on the Blue and were prepared to show them we have one of the best offenses in the country. We were able to prove that tonight.”

Ajayi is putting together what could be the greatest season by a running back in school history. He has 1,619 rushing yards (second in school history), 2,155 yards from scrimmage (first), 24 rushing touchdowns (third) and 28 total touchdowns (second). He needs 95 rushing yards (Ian Johnson, 2006), three rushing touchdowns (Brock Forsey, 2002) and five total touchdowns (Forsey, 2002) to break those school records with two games left.

He’s getting stronger, faster and better as the season progresses, first-year coach Bryan Harsin said.

“He’s playing at an elite level,” Harsin said. “The guys around him are better because of that. That’s the confidence that good players bring to a football team. What he’s done for us — it’s not just what he’s done, it’s what he’s done for this entire football team.”

Ajayi’s success begs an obvious question: Will the Mountain West championship game be his last at Albertsons Stadium?

Coaches haven’t broached that subject with him yet, but say they will when the season ends.

Ajayi says it’s not on his mind.

“Not right now,” he said. “I’m just focused on this championship game. At the end of the day, it will be our last game on the Blue this season. Even if it was my last game or it wasn’t, it’s our last game on the Blue. My mentality is not losing on the Blue and getting a trophy for our team.”

Full story in Sunday’s newspaper.

MW TICKET INFO

Fresno State (6-6) will play at No. 25 Boise State (10-2) at 8 p.m. next Saturday in the second annual Mountain West football championship game. CBS will broadcast.

Tickets went on sale immediately after the Broncos’ win against Utah State late Saturday night. They are $40 for most of the stadium and $20 in the north end zone. Season-ticket holders have until 9 p.m. Tuesday to purchase their usual seats for the championship game. Tickets are available at boisestatetickets.com. The box office will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.

Full-time students receive free tickets. Guest tickets are $9. Those tickets will be available Monday and Tuesday.

Parking is $10 for the general admission Norco, Manitou and Lincoln Garage lots, $20 for reserved spaces and $40 for RVs.

The home team receives the largest share of championship game revenue, with each of the conference’s 12 members benefiting. Fresno State received about $181,000 as the host last year.

NOTEBOOK

Fresno State wins West Division

Fresno State held on for a 28-21 win against Hawaii on Saturday to take the Mountain West West Division title and secure a berth in the conference championship game. The defending champion Bulldogs (6-6, 5-3 Mountain West) will play at Boise State or Utah State.

Boise State beat Fresno State 37-27 on Oct. 17 in Boise. Fresno State beat Utah State last year in the MW championship game.

The championship game is at 8 p.m. next Saturday. It airs on CBS.

Fresno State will go to a bowl game even if it loses to fall below .500, the Mountain West says.

James out for year

Boise State sophomore safety Chanceller James will miss the rest of the season with an injury, coach Bryan Harsin said. James was injured in the first quarter Nov. 22 at Wyoming. He had become a starter Nov. 15 and was seventh on the team with 36 tackles through 11 games.

Seniors honored

Boise State saluted its 11 seniors before the game. Coaches saved quarterback Grant Hedrick, injured wide receiver Matt Miller and safety Jeremy Ioane for last — and they received large roars from the crowd. Ioane revealed publicly during the week that he needs a kidney transplant.

Another pick for Thompson

Boise State junior safety Darian Thompson’s first-quarter interception gave him seven this season and 14 in his career.

He is tied for the seven-most in school history for a single season.

He is tied for sixth for a career. In the Football Bowl Subdivision era, only cornerback Gabe Franklin had more. Franklin made 18 interceptions from 2001 to 2004.

Another catch for Hedrick

Hedrick made his third catch of the season in the first quarter. He tossed a lateral to sophomore wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck, who threw back to Hedrick. The quarterback ran for a 24-yard gain to set up a touchdown.

Hedrick made two catches for 16 yards and two touchdowns on similar plays earlier this season.

Ajayi dominates at home

Boise State junior tailback Jay Ajayi scored three touchdowns in the first half against Utah State. He has scored multiple touchdowns in every home game this season — for a total of 16 touchdowns in six games. He had at least 118 rushing yards and at least 144 yards from scrimmage in each home game going into the Utah State contest. He had 106 rushing yards and 107 total yards midway through the third quarter.

Ajayi has rushed for 100 yards in seven straight games. The school doesn’t have a record in that category, but it’s the first time it’s happened in the WAC/Mountain West era (since 2001). He has rushed for 100 yards nine times this season, tying Ian Johnson’s school record from 2006.

Attendance dips

The attendance for the Utah State game was 33,940. The season average finished at 33,570, fourth-highest in school history.

This is the second straight year that attendance has declined. The Broncos peaked at 35,404 fans per home game in 2012 and dropped to 34,366 in 2013.

Quick hits

Boise State wore all blue uniforms with their chrome facemasks. Miller, the offensive captain before his season-ending ankle injury, and senior kicker Dan Goodale were the single-game captains. Junior safety Dillon Lukehart missed his third game of the season. Ioane carried the Hammer for the first time in his career. Senior cornerback Cleshawn Page started for the first time since Sept. 6 in place of sophomore Jonathan Moxey, who also played. Senior safety Corey Bell started for the first time since Nov. 8 in place of James. Boise State scored 20 points in the first quarter, the most allowed by Utah State in the first quarter since Nov. 12, 2011. Senior tight end Connor Peters left with an apparent leg injury in the second quarter. The Broncos won on Senior Day for the 16th straight season. They have won the past 12 of those games by at least 28 points. Boise State has won 13 straight home games. The Broncos were 4-0 in November, the first time since 2009 that they haven’t lost a game in that month. Boise State has scored on 42 straight red-zone trips. That includes 34 touchdowns.

NOTABLE QUOTES

Boise State RB Jay Ajayi

— “Our mindset going into the game was the make sure we gave (the seniors) another chance on the Blue and really have a senior sendoff with a trophy.”

— On his 19-yard touchdown run on which he reversed field: “It’s just the mentality of not wanting to be stopped. The guy kind of had my foot. I was able to pull out of it. I spun out. I used my speed to be able to get to the edge. (Left tackle Rees Odhiambo) did a great job after I spun out of keeping the play alive.”

Boise State S Darian Thompson

— On holding Utah State in check when the offense slumped: “That was very important. Great teams are able to pick up the slack when one phase of the ball is not doing so well.”

Boise State QB Grant Hedrick

— On the up-and-down offensive showing: “They’re a great defense. We started well and we’ve got to continue to do that. They did some good things schematically that threw us off a little bit.”

— On the defense: “That’s championship defense. We needed that tonight.”

— On what’s at stake next week: “It’s kind of a dream come true, really. Being in that position to have that opportunity is awesome. I remember my senior year of high school playing in a basketball game while (the Broncos) were playing in the Fiesta Bowl thinking, ‘Man, I want to be a part of it.’ ”

Boise State coach Bryan Harsin

— “The defense played about as well as they could play. The come out with a big explosive play. Everybody gets nervous to see that type of run. It was a different formation. We hadn’t seen it. The defense swells up, forces a field goal and they miss it. From that point on, there wasn’t a whole lot that they did.”

— On cornerback Jonathan Moxey, who contributed five tackles and two pass breakups: “Moxey played really well.”

— On the seniors: “I told all those guys, ‘This isn’t the last time we’re playing on the Blue.’ I think we kind of knew that. There was a good vibe. It was Senior Day and all that, but we’re going to play again. I’m proud of those guys, and we’re not done.”

— On Ajayi: “I think Jay’s gotten stronger as the season has gone on. I think Jay’s gotten faster as the season has gone on. I see Jay out there and he looks like a different guy when he’s out there running the ball. You see his durability and you see his strength and probably more importantly his competitiveness.”

Utah State coach Matt Wells

— On the game: “They out-physicaled us and out-executed us. And we didn’t have the answers to fix it.”

— On Ajayi: “He’s the best back in the league. First goal was to stop him and we didn’t do it. He ran behind his pads and he was strong and physical. It was very unlike our defense to allow that to happen.”

Utah State safety Frankie Sutera

— “Our No. 1 goal coming into the game was to stop Jay (Ajayi) and he made us pay. When you don’t stop a good back like that, he’s going to make you pay, and he definitely did tonight.”

SCORING SUMMARY

First quarter

BSU — Jay Ajayi 9 run (Dan Goodale kick), 10:11. Key plays: Ajayi carried four times for 30 yards. Quarterback Grant Hedrick connected over the middle for 17 yards each to tight end Jake Roh and wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck. Drive: 9 plays, 79 yards, 3:02. Boise State 7, Utah State 0

BSU — Alec Dhaenens 2 pass from Hedrick (Goodale kick), 7:24. Key plays: Safety Darian Thompson grabbed an interception on the Aggies’ first play after the Broncos’ touchdown. Sperbeck threw a pass to Hedrick on a trick play for 24 yards and Hedrick scrambled twice for 13 yards. Drive: 6 plays, 45 yards, 2:39. Boise State 14, Utah State 0

USU — Kent Myers 9 run (Nick Diaz kick), 4:32. Key plays: Myers rushed for 8 and 13 yards and hit a deep ball to Ronald Butler for 38 yards. Drive: 7 plays, 75 yards, 2:52. Boise State 14, Utah State 7

BSU — Ajayi 19 run (Goodale kick blocked), 2:05. Key plays: Sperbeck made an 11-yard catch, Ajayi added a 10-yard run and Shane Williams-Rhodes took a shovel sweep 13 yards. On the touchdown, Ajayi started right, got stuffed, reversed field and outran the defense to the left pylon. Drive: 6 plays, 72 yards, 2:27. Boise State 20, Utah State 7

USU — Jalen Davis blocked PAT return, 2:05. Boise State 20, Utah State 9

Second quarter

BSU — Ajayi 8 run (Goodale kick), 14:05. Key plays: Roh made a 41-yard catch and Hedrick hit Williams-Rhodes for 6 yards on third-and-4. Drive: 6 plays, 62 yards, 1:58. Boise State 27, Utah State 9

BSU — Sperbeck 24 pass from Hedrick (Goodale kick), 11:47. Key plays: True freshman Jeremy McNichols forced a fumble on the Aggies’ kickoff return and sophomore Chris Santini recovered at the Utah State 22. The Broncos scored three times — the first two plays were nullified by holding penalties. Drive: 5 plays, 22 yards, 2:07. Boise State 34, Utah State 9

USU — Diaz 46 field goal, 4:39. Key plays: LaJuan Hunt gained 10 yards on second-and-10, but defensive end Kamalei Correa tackled Butler for an 11-yard loss on a reverse. Drive: 7 plays, 32 yards, 4:13. Boise State 34, Utah State 12

Fourth quarter

BSU — Ajayi 62 run (Goodale kick), 14:49. Key play: Ajayi’s touchdown came on the first play of the fourth quarter, the quarter that he dominates. Drive: 2 plays, 78 yards, :13. Boise State 41, Utah State 12

BSU — Ajayi 1 run (Goodale kick), 9:21. Key plays: Ajayi gained 9, 9 and 17 yards. Drive: 8 plays, 50 yards, 3:30. Boise State 48, Utah State 12

BSU — Safety, Elliot Hoyte and Rondell McNair sack Myers in end zone, 4:57. Boise State 50, Utah State 12

USU — Daniel Gray 50 fumble return (Diaz kick), 3:51. Boise State 50, Utah State 19

Live Blog Boise State-Utah State football game

LINKS

Senior class held this team together

Seniors bios

Game breakdown

Boise State, Utah State square off for division

Marshall loss clears path for Boise State

Colorado State loss sets up division showdown

Beat notes: NFL evaluation process could complicate Ajayi’s decision

Coaches haven’t talked to Ajayi about his future

Jeremy Ioane’s battle with kidney disease

Live chat replay

Key matchup: Jay Ajayi vs. Zach Vigil

Boise State in position for major bowl berth

Vigil brothers lead Utah State D

Utah State scouting report

Recruiting commitment tracker

Boise State makes CFP Top 25

How ticketing process would work for MW title game

Mountain West Football Report

Backups disappoint vs. Wyoming; Correa surges

Matt Miller describes injury, updates his rehab

Chanceller James injured, won’t play this week

Deayon wins MW weekly award

Donte Deayon gets MW honor

Boise State cracks Top 25

Email me at ccripe@idahostatesman.com.

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