And it comes down to the finale

It was a workmanlike effort for Boise State at New Mexico Friday night. Not always clean, as the upcoming showdown with Utah State may have been a tad bit of a distraction. But it was effective enough to deliver a 45-14 victory and give the Broncos a shot at the Mountain West championship game. The Bronco offense settled the issue early, with first downs on each of its first four plays. When it was all said and done, Boise State ran 68 plays on the Lobos and got first downs on 30 of them. The Broncos did it shorthanded, with wide receivers John Hightower and Khalil Shakir out and A.J. Richardson in a reduced role. So Sean Modster played the part of Cedrick Wilson, catching three Brett Rypien touchdown passes and notching career-highs with nine receptions for 129 yards.

The most gratifying aspect of Friday night’s game for Boise State had to be the running of Alexander Mattison. How many times has a shoestring tackle prevented Mattison from peeling off a big gainer this season? The junior finally hit explosion play paydirt with his final carry of the night, a 41-yard touchdown run that lifted his season total to 1,015. That extends the Broncos’ streak of seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher to 10, the longest in the nation unless Auburn can tie them. The Tigers’ leading rusher, JaTarvious Whitlow, has 716 yards, needing 284 yards with two games to go. Mattison joins Brock Forsey, Ian Johnson, Doug Martin, Jay Ajayi and Jeremy McNichols as Broncos with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons this century.

Desmond Williams has a new “biggest play of his career.” The sophomore linebacker highlighted a solid Boise State defensive effort against New Mexico with a rip-and-scoop-and-score in the second quarter. Williams pried the ball loose from Lobos running back Zahneer Shuler at the UNM nine-yard line, corralled the loose ball in the air, and dashed nine yards untouched into the end zone to give the Broncos a 21-7 lead. It was Williams who saved the day in his first career game against Troy last year, interrupting an apparent touchdown by knocking the ball out of a wide receiver’s hands just before he reached the goal line. The ball bounced out of bounds in the end zone for a touchback in a game Boise State won 24-13.

So the stage has been set for the winner-take-all game to decide the Mountain Division title in the Mountain West. Whoever wins the Boise State-Utah State game on the blue turf (and ESPN) this Saturday night will be home for the conference championship tilt on December 1. The opponent will be Fresno State, who got by San Diego State 23-14 on Saturday. As for the Aggies, they have won 10 games in a row, but the last one was precarious. USU had to rally past Colorado State in the final minute—and survive a Rams Hail Mary that was overturned when it was ruled CSU’s Preston Williams had stepped out of bounds and come back into the field of play before the catch. A bizarre leadup for this week’s game.

Boise State’s seniors, the ones who knew Jack Fields the best, played with especially heavy hearts Friday night. The former Bronco running back was shot and killed last Thursday night in a hotel in Augusta, GA, by a deputy who was being stabbed by Fields. Teammates commiserated over mental health issues they felt tormented Fields. When he came to Boise State from El Paso, TX, former Bronco coach Chris Petersen liked his skill set. In fact, Fields played as a true freshman in the opener at Michigan State in 2012. But in the following weeks, redshirt freshman Jay Ajayi took root, and Fields did not see the field much aside from special teams the rest of his career. Fields rushed for just 336 yards and one touchdown in four seasons.

Idaho absorbed the expected result at Florida, ending the season Saturday with a 63-10 loss to the Gators. The only offense the Vandals had was the scrambling of quarterback Mason Petrino, which accounted for 87 yards. Petrino was unable to pass, going just 12-of-31 for 70 yards with two pick-sixes. The first season back in the FCS for Idaho was disappointing at 4-7. It’s the Vandals’ 17th losing season in the past 19 years. In Pocatello, Idaho State finished its second winning season in the last 15 campaigns with a 26-13 loss to Big Sky co-champion Weber State. The Bengals ended up fourth in the conference after being picked 12th. In his final game, ISU quarterback Tanner Gueller threw for 267 yards and two touchdowns to finish with a school-record 74 career TD passes.

The Boise State men, having rallied past Jackson State 70-53 Friday night, do take a victory into the Cayman Islands Classic tonight against Creighton. But expectations for the Broncos have to be tempered, knowing that the same Jackson State team was pelted 67-36 by another Caymans participant, St. Bonaventure, six days earlier. This is a tough field. Perhaps the Broncos can come out of the tournament with a better idea of how they’re going to do things. It’s looking like R.J. Williams is going to be a feature performer on this team. The junior college transfer led Boise State with 18 points against the Tigers, plus six rebounds. Derrick Alston could be a nice complement to Williams—he scored 14 Friday.

Tonight’s game against No. 5 Louisville in Taco Bell Arena is a barometer on many levels for the Boise State women. This rare home date with one of the nation’s elite programs will tell the Broncos how much they learned from the NCAA Tournament in March, when they fell 74-42 to these same Cardinals. Boise State hung with Louisville before the hosts’ size and quickness took their toll (the Broncos were held to 24 percent shooting). We’ll also find out if Friday evening’s game meant anything, as Boise State annihilated Northwest Christian 93-26. The Beacons made only eight field goals, the fewest allowed by the Broncos in their history. Coach Gordy Presnell played all 12 of his eligible players, and all 12 scored.

The Idaho Steelheads peppered Rapid City with 58 shots Saturday night in CenturyLink Arena. Only two made it through, but that was enough for a 2-1 overtime victory. Eric Sweetman connected about three minutes into the OT to end it. That came on the heels of a 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Rush Friday night. The Steelheads had lost six of their previous seven games. Also from the pro notebook, Troy Merritt produced a strong finish yesterday in the RSM Classic at Georgia’s Sea Island Resort. The former Boise State star offset two bogeys with eight birdies, including four in a row on the front side, to shoot a six-under 64. Merritt tied for 23rd and earned $51,413.

Boise State’s official release on the NCAA Cross Country Championships Saturday was a bit contradictory. It rightfully led with the history-making fact that both the Bronco men and women finished in the top 10 in Madison, WI, with Allie Ostrander coming in sixth on the women’s side for her third career top 10 finish at nationals. But coach Corey Ihmels threw some cold water on it. “Today didn’t go the way we thought it would,” Ihmels said. “To get both teams into the top 10 and have three All-Americans is a great accomplishment, but we have higher goals and aspirations for where we want to take this program.” So it’s onward and upward.

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November 19, 2010: Boise State improves to 10-0 with a 51-0 rout of Fresno State, the first shutout suffered by the Bulldogs in 12 years. More records fell before a Friday night full house at Bronco Stadium and an ESPN2 audience, as Kellen Moore became Boise State’s career passing yards leader, Titus Young became the Broncos’ career receiving yards leader, and Kyle Brotzman kicked his way into the school lead in career scoring. The Broncos, wearing all orange, were stellar on defense, holding Fresno State to only 125 yards. It was the first time in 40 years Boise State had registered three shutouts in one season.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)