Broncos focus on a record road night

Colorado State interim coach Jase Herl walked into green-draped Moby Arena last night wearing a blue sportcoat. That was bad karma. Blue-clad Boise State dismantled the Rams 87-54 to improve to 22-6 on the season and ensure at least a top three finish in the Mountain West. Come to think of it, maybe coach Leon Rice created some karma of his own. Rice was whistled for a rare technical foul less than three minutes into the game for arguing a no-call on a possible goaltending. CSU led 10-4 at that point—and the Broncos outscored the Rams 46-19 the rest of the half to lead by 21 at the break. The 33-point win was Boise State’s biggest ever on the road in Mountain West play, eclipsing the 28-point romp at Air Force last year. And it’s the Broncos’ biggest conference road win overall in 14 years.

When you face a situation like Boise State did last night against a downtrodden team, the resolve has to come from within. It’s a matter of want-to, and the Broncos had the want-to at Colorado State. The first thing to check out along those lines is rebounding. Boise State out-boarded the Rams 26-9 in the first half and had a 20-rebound advantage for the game. Zach Haney had seven boards, a standard number for the 6-10 junior. But the ratio was amazing—five of them came on the offensive end. Chris Sengfelder pulled down 11 rebounds, and four of his were on the offensive glass. It’s the fourth time this season the Broncos have out-rebounded an opponent by 20 or more. As legs grow weary with the 30-game mark of the season nearing, it’s rebounding that can ultimately set this team apart.

Chandler Hutchison had his way with a down-and-out Colorado State group, scoring inside and out on his way to 27 points. Hutchison went 10-for-18 from the field and 4-for-7 from three-point range in a game Boise State led by 42 points with just over seven minutes left before calling off the dogs. The Broncos put the hammer down with a 20-0 run over 9½ minutes of the second half. Justinian Jessup, who hails from Longmont, CO, 40 miles south of Fort Collins, played well for family and friends with four three-balls and 16 points. And oh by the way, Jessup had six rebounds.

None other than ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. is on the Leighton Vander Esch bus now. Kiper’s “2018 NFL Mock Draft 2.0” has the former Boise State star all the way up at No. 17 overall, going to Pittsburgh. Writes Kiper: “Vander Esch is a name I continue to hear for the end of the first round. I expect him to put up strong numbers at the combine. At 6-4, 240, he has the versatility to play outside linebacker, but I think his best fit is as an inside ‘backer in a 3-4. He’s a physical run-stopper who can defend tight ends and running backs. Inside linebacker is an obvious need for the Steelers, who will have to replace Ryan Shazier.” One footnote—word is that Vander Esch is up to 254 pounds now.

The NFL’s “franchise tag” window is open, and the Dallas Cowboys are considering that for former Boise State star DeMarcus Lawrence. The franchise tag binds players about to become unrestricted free agents to their teams for one year. The Cowboys have until March 6 to strike a long-term deal with Lawrence—and can put the tag on him if they don’t. He’s going to be financially set either way. The franchise tag would mean $17.5 million to Lawrence for 2018. A long-term contract? Whoa. Dallas wants the latter, of course, to get “Tank” locked in. Lawrence is coming off a 14.5-sack season, which tied him for second in the NFL.

Sun Valley’s Hilary Knight scored a power play goal with 26 seconds left in the first period to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead in the Winter Olympics women’s hockey gold medal game against Canada today. Then, with the Canadians up 2-1 late in the third, it looked like Knight and the Americans were headed for another heartbreak silver. But Monique Lamoureux-Mordano potted the tying goal with 6:21 left, and her sister, Jocelyne Lamoureax-Davidson, got the deciding tally in the shootout, and the emotions flowed in a 3-2 Team USA victory. It was a 180-degree turn from Sochi in 2014, where the U.S. was riding a 2-0 lead in the third period before Canada corralled two goals in the closing minutes to force overtime. The Canadians then delivered a gut-punch in sudden-death OT. Now Canada feels the sting.

The bad news for Troy Merritt last week: he did a slow fade during the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club near L.A. The good news: Merritt’s first round was so strong, a four-under 68, he easily made a second straight cut on the PGA Tour. But the Meridian resident went 71-72-73 over the weekend, finishing 41st and earning $24,516. The tour hits Florida now—Merritt tees off today at the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens. Also on the local pro front, the Idaho Steelheads began their three game series at Rapid City last night with a 4-2 victory. Cole Ully and Will Merchant scored goals 46 seconds apart in the first period, and Max French tallied twice in the third for the Steelies.

Back to campus—No. 4 College of Idaho opened the Cascade Conference tournament last night in Caldwell with Northwest University. The Coyotes, the top seed in the tourney, got all they wanted from eighth-seeded Northwest before prevailing 62-56. The Big Sky goes in-state in Pocatello tonight as Idaho plays at Idaho State. The Bengals want to prove they belong, and they’ve come back nicely this season from an abysmal 2016-17. ISU is 7-7 in conference and 12-13 overall after going 3-15 and 5-26, respectively, a year ago. The Vandals, meanwhile, are on a six-game winning streak.

The Boise State women’s basketball squad, trying to build momentum for the Mountain West Tournament, held off Colorado State 55-49 last night in Taco Bell Arena. The Broncos, who were led by Riley Lupfer with 15 points, have now clinched a bye into the quarterfinals of the Mountain West tournament in two weeks. And the Mountain West Indoor Track and Field Championships start today in Albuquerque. Boise State’s women’s distance stars, Allie Ostrander, Sadi Henderson and Clare O’Brien, are all entered for the Broncos.

This Day In Sports…February 22, 1918:

The birthday of Charles O. Finley, the baseball owner who moved the Athletics from Kansas City to Oakland 50 years ago. Finley was the first to officially call the team the A’s, introduced multi-colored uniforms and white cleats, and had a mule named “Charlie O” as the team’s mascot. The A’s won three straight World Series in the early 1970’s before Finley dismantled the team rather than pay the high salaries brought about by new free agent rules. Charlie Finley, who passed away in 1996, would have been 100 years old today.

(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.)