Broncos’ perseverance pre-empts epic implosion

The 2016 season has turned into a wild, weird wacky one for Boise State. The Broncos gave away five turnovers—two of them interceptions returned for touchdowns—but still beat BYU 28-27 last night at Albertsons Stadium to move to 7-0. They rolled up 571 yards…and won by one point. It was the game that just couldn’t end. The Cougars marched to the Bronco 27 in the final minute but had a field goal blocked by David Moa with 10 seconds left. It came on second down, though, and because the kick hadn’t gone beyond the line of scrimmage, it was recoverable by the offense. So the Cougars would be able to get in two more plays before a final Hail Mary was batted away.

Boise State continually fought through adversity of its own making in this one. How many ways did they almost give it away? Beyond the two pick-sixes, there were three lost fumbles, a blocked Tyler Rausa field goal, a missed Rausa attempt, and perhaps the ultimate kick in the gut: an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Dylan Sumner-Gardner for spiking the ball at the worst possible time. BYU had just failed on an inexplicable fake punt out of its own end zone and was stopped at its two-yard line. A touchdown was almost a layup. Sumner-Gardner’s penalty put the ball back on the 17, and Rausa’s field goal try would sail wide left. OMG, DSG.

It was an inspired night by the Boise State defense, which held Taysom Hill and BYU under 300 yards until the Cougars’ final desperation drive. Twice in rapid succession the third quarter, BYU was handed the ball just outside the red zone after Bronco fumbles, one on a muffed punt by Akilian Butler and another after a Thomas Sperbeck catch that was pried loose. That the Boise State D was able to allow just three points after the two gifts was key to this victory. Elliot Hoyte, meanwhile, had been waiting for a game like this ever since he first picked up a football in his native England. Hoyte notched the first 1.5 sacks of his career and added another stop for a loss among his seven tackles as the Broncos harassed Hill all night.

Hopefully the two extra days between this game and the one at Wyoming a week from tomorrow will give Sperbeck a chance to heal. The star senior, who broke Titus Young’s Bronco career receiving yards record and now has 3,139, was wobbly as he was being helped off the field with 12½ minutes left in the game. Sperbeck did not return. He’s on the cusp of another milestone, as his 109 yards receiving gave him 13 100-yard games in career, tying him with Ryan Ikebe for the Boise State record.

This game was billed as a battle between two of the nation’s top running backs. Jeremy McNichols did not disappoint, becoming only the fifth player in Boise State history to notch 100 yards both rushing and receiving in the same game (140 on the ground, 109 through the air). But BYU’s Jamaal Williams, unbeknownst to anyone except the most “innerest” of circles in the Cougar program, had an ankle injury and was left standing on the sidelines. Instead, fans watched Squally Canada, a one-time Bronco recruiting commit, rush for 88 yards for the Cougars. It was McNichols’ night. He served notice three plays into the game on his 76-yard touchdown catch from Rypien, and he rushed for the eventual winning TD in the fourth quarter.

I know which Mountain West game I’m paying attention to this weekend. Wyoming, the fastest-rising combatant in the conference, plays at Nevada, which appears to be stuck in quicksand right now. The Cowboys are getting in the heads of opposing offenses—they’ve scored a defensive touchdown in three straight games, an active streak that’s tied with Alabama for the longest in the country right now. The Wolf Pack has won six straight home games, but two of the last three have been shaky, an overtime victory over Cal Poly, and a five-point decision versus Fresno State. Next up in the MW are San Jose State and San Diego State tonight on ESPN2 from Qualcomm Stadium.

Certainly Idaho feels like it can upset Appalachian State in North Carolina tomorrow. No telling what confidence will do for the Vandals after their 55-23 walloping of New Mexico State. But oddsmakers take a dim view of Idaho’s chances, with the Mountaineers established as a 21-point favorite. As much of a breakout as the NMSU game was for the Vandal offense, it’s the defense that has taken root during this stretch of three wins in the last four games. And that’ll be the key in getting after App State. Idaho’s defense is banged-up, but that didn’t slow its pass rush against the Aggies. In the third quarter last week, the Vandals recorded three sacks in a span of four snaps and had five for the day. They came into the game with five sacks for the entire season.

The College of Idaho defense will be under the gun again tomorrow, but for the Coyotes, it’s “been there, done that.” Southern Oregon, the 2014 NAIA champion and 2015 NAIA national runner-up, comes into Simplot Stadium for a rematch of a win it eeked out three weeks ago, 31-27 in Ashland. The Raiders are No. 17 in the NAIA poll, and they’re fifth in the nation in total offense, averaging 507 yards per game. The Yotes held the Raiders to 441 yards in the first meeting. The C of I defensive line is ready to do its part, coming off ts best game of the season in last week’s loss at Montana Western. Starters Carlos Murana, Matt Crispo and former Borah High standout Josh Price combined for 20 tackles in the game.

Doug Martin’s effort to string together two straight stellar NFL seasons has hit another detour. The former Boise State star has suffered a setback as he rehabs a hamstring injury from Week 2, according to Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter. Now, Martin is out indefinitely. It’s too bad, because the Buccaneers face the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, and Martin could have gone off on that defense. This is the third year in the past four that he has missed significant time due to injury. Last season Martin was the NFL’s second-leading rusher behind Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson with 1,402 yards.

The Idaho Steelheads face the Utah Grizzlies 11 times this season. Two down, with two to go this weekend and seven more left the rest of the way. The teams meet tonight in the Steelheads’ 20th home opener in CenturyLink Arena. One Steelie to watch is Rob Linsmayer, who was stifled by Utah with the rest of his teammates last week but is coming off the best offensive season of his career. Linsmayer, the 26-year-old forward out of Holy Cross, enters tonight’s game two points shy of 100 for his pro career and four points short of 100 as a Steelhead. He posted 57 points last season.

This Day In Sports…October 21, 2012:

Idaho fires head coach Robb Akey two-thirds of the way through his sixth season the day after a 70-28 loss at Louisiana Tech. Akey had led the Vandals to an 8-5 season and a thrilling Humanitarian Bowl win in his third year in 2009, but Idaho faded after that. The loss in Ruston saw the Vandals allow 839 yards of total offense while clinching their 12th losing season in 13 years. It was Idaho’s 17th loss in 20 games and left Akey with a career record of 20-50. Offensive coordinator Jason Gesser was named interim coach.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)