Game-changing moments came early

Boise State did itself two major favors in the first half against San Jose State Friday night. One was an interception by Dylan Sumner-Gardner, the first of his career and only the Broncos’ fifth takeaway of the season (they’re still dead last in the FBS in that category). That resulted in something completely foreign to Boise State: a short field. The Broncos took over at the Spartan 49 and were in the end zone in four plays. The second favor? Sean Wale’s fabulous fake punt on the last snap of the quarter, a 29-yard dash up the middle at a time when the offense appeared to be gumming up. Boise State cashed in on that one, too. The ability to keep San Jose State from seizing momentum at that point was key in the Broncos’ 45-31 victory.

There have been some difference-makers on offense for Boise State this year, but only one of them is new to the blue turf. That, of course, is Cedrick Wilson. The junior college transfer caught six passes for 102 yards and scored two more touchdowns Friday night. Wilson is now tied with Wyoming’s Tanner Gentry for the lead in Mountain West TD catches this year with eight. And, in terms of receiving yards, Wilson has already put together the second-best season ever by a first-year Bronco—with four games to go. Rodney Smith, also a JC transfer in 1997, is tops with 917. Just behind Wilson at 679 yards is Matt Miller and his big redshirt freshman year in 2011.

In the “battle of the viral stars” Friday night, each had his moments. To recap, San Jose State quarterback Kenny Potter nailed a trick shot from the top of his CEFCU (formerly Spartan) Stadium into a trash can on the field below last spring. And then there was the throw by Boise State’s Brett Rypien across the blue turf through a basketball hoop last June at the Broncos’ football camp. There were lots of shares and views on social media. In the game Friday, Potter rushed for a season-high 67 yards while escaping numerous outstretched Bronco arms. He also threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns. Rypien was extremely efficient on a night Boise State didn’t throw much, going 16-of-21 for 219 yards and three TDs.

In the polls yesterday, Boise State remained No. 24 in both—and was jumped by Washington State in both. But what are you going to say when the Cougars embarrass Arizona 69-7? And Wazzu’s seven-game winning streak has certainly boosted the Broncos’ portfolio. There’s still no San Diego State in the rankings. The Aztecs have already clinched a spot in the Mountain West championship game after pasting Hawaii 55-0. Elsewhere in the conference, Air Force earned the prize it always craves, the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy, with a 31-12 pounding of Army. It is the Falcons’ 20th trophy since the award’s inception. And Wyoming is showing no signs of slowing down, dropping Utah State 52-28. The Cowboys continue to render the polls irrelevant for the Broncos right now.

One more down, and one to go for Idaho to reach bowl eligibility after a 23-13 win at Louisiana-Lafayette Saturday. The Vandal defense has taken plenty of shots over the years, but that is the most improved facet of this year’s team. It showed, as Idaho held the Ragin’ Cajuns to 266 yards of total offense—only 12 times this century has Idaho allowed fewer. Kaden Elliss and Aikeem Coleman each sacked ULL quarterback Anthony Jennings twice as the Vandals won their third road game of the year. Austin Rehkow was even better than usual, kicking three field goals, including a career-long 50-yarder. Idaho can wrap up a bowl berth this Saturday when it visits woeful Texas State.

College of Idaho was game, but No. 7 Montana Tech was too much for the Coyotes in a 42-21 victory Saturday in Butte. The Yotes rallied from a three-touchdown deficit and got to within 28-21 late in the third quarter, but the Orediggers put it away from there to clinch the Frontier Conference regular-season title. Freshman quarterback Darius-James Peterson was the focal point of the C of I offense again, finishing with 173 rushing yards on 24 carries. Peterson also scored three touchdowns, breaking the school single-season record for rushing TDs with 16. The Yotes fell to 3-7 ahead of their season finale this Saturday at Montana State-Northern.

As much as we would like to mix up our “former Broncos in the NFL” coverage, it’s Jay Ajayi making the headlines again this week. Boise State’s Jay-Train didn’t rush for 200 yards as he did the previous two weeks, but he did net 111 on 24 carries to help Miami get past the New York Jets, 27-23. Ajayi lost three, one and five yards on his first three carries. But two of the losses were wiped out by an unnecessary roughness penalty and a taunting penalty. Ajayi then scored on a 20-yard run in the first quarter—and provided some invaluable clock-killing in the fourth quarter by gaining 55 of his yards. “I’m never going to go away from him,” Miami coach Adam Gase said. “His job is to keep hammering it.”

Going into the weekend, the Idaho Steelheads were the only team in the ECHL not to earn a point in the standings on the road. But the Steelheads came home with four after sweeping the Colorado Eagles in Loveland. Idaho won 2-1 Friday night in a shootout, with Joe Basaraba the only player on either team to score in the one-on-one session. In Saturday’s 4-3 triumph, the Steelies got the game-winning tally from Connor Chatham, his first goal as a professional, on a night that saw Idaho put up only 22 shots on goal. The Steelheads return to CenturyLink Arena Wednesday night to face the Adirondack Thunder.

There have been some shocking results in college basketball exhibition games over the years. Boise State flirted with being on the short end of one of them in their matchup against Northwest Christian Saturday before pulling away 91-76. The Beacons didn’t see the game as a unique little father-son reunion between Bronco coach Leon Rice and NCU freshman Brock Rice. As the No. 12 team in NAIA Division II, they came to play, and they clung to a lead over Boise State inside the seven-minute mark in the second half. One thing you can say for the Broncos: they had balance. Three players scored 15 points, Chandler Hutchison, Justinian Jessup and Paris Austin, and Nick Duncan added 14. That would be a real asset in the regular season, which opens this Saturday versus Northwest University in Taco Bell Arena.

The Boise State women weren’t any more comfortable in their one and only exhibition yesterday. The Broncos pulled away from Alaska-Fairbanks late to win 75-61. Sophomore Marike Vanderschaaf led Boise State with 15 points and nine rebounds. She was followed by preseason All-Mountain West honoree Brooke Pahukoa with 14 points and eight boards. It was the first college basketball game ever shown via Twitter (I did not check that out).

It was a middling weekend for Boise State’s two PGA Tour golfers. Troy Merritt shot 73-70 in the final two rounds of the Shriner Hospitals For Children Open in Las Vegas and finished in a tie for 54th, earning $16,588. Graham DeLaet climbed the leaderboard Saturday with a five-under 66 at TPC Summerlin, but a two-over 73 yesterday left him one shot behind Merritt. DeLaet pocketed $15,180.

This Day In Sports…November 7, 1998:

Boise State clinches its first winning season as a Division I-A school, starting a streak that now stands at 19, with a wild 55-51 victory at New Mexico State. The back-and-forth track meet saw Bronco quarterbacks Nate Sparks and Bart Hendricks throw for over 200 yards each. It was an emotional moment for Boise State seniors who two years earlier had endured a 2-10 season and the death of coach Pokey Allen. Dirk Koetter, in his first year as head coach, hailed it as a night to remember. No one anticipated the amazing era that would begin to unfold the following season.

(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.)