Broncos can look ahead now

It could have been a resume-wrecker, but in the end it goes into the left side of the win-loss column. It could have been a resume-wrecker, but in the end it goes into the left side of the win-loss column. Boise State captured a tense 67-66 victory over Loyola Marymount last night in Taco Bell Arena, escaping a four-point deficit with less than a minute to play when Montigo Alford canned a couple clutch free throws and Mikey Thompson converted a three-point play, the latter with 12 seconds left. The Broncos were out-rebounded by seven and had six shots blocked. They went through some long shooting lulls and made only 19 baskets all night, but they hit 20 free throws (out of 29). BSU’s ability to get to the line was the difference in the game. “With the news rules, you’ve got to pin fouls on those guys,” said coach Leon Rice on the KBOI/Learfield Sports postgame show. “And our team did a good job of doing that.”

Did Boise State have Oregon on its mind last night? That’s debatable. “We warned the guys this was going to be a tough game, and it lived up to the billing,” said Rice. It was a disjointed effort, though. One positive was Boston College graduate transfer Lonnie Jackson, who got his first start as a Bronco and hit a trio of three-pointers, scored 10 points and dished out four assists. I talked at length yesterday about Paris Austin and his defensive learning curve after he was lifted three minutes into last Saturday’s win at Portland in favor of Jackson. Well, Austin didn’t even get in versus Loyola Marymount.

“Duck prep” can begin in earnest now. Oregon presents one of those rare Pac-12 visits to Taco Bell Arena Saturday night. Even more unusual is an appearance by a ranked team. The Ducks hung on in the polls this week after losing 80-69 to UNLV last Saturday night. They’re ranked 24th in AP and 23rd in the Coaches Poll. Oregon played in Hawaii Monday night at the Pearl Harbor Invitational and beat Navy 67-47 to improve to 7-1. The Ducks did it without leading scorer Tyler Dorsey, who injured a knee against UNLV.

It’s easy to point to the stunning losses on the blue turf to New Mexico and Air Force and see those as the root of all defensive evil for Boise State. The turning point may have actually come on Halloween, though, when the Broncos topped UNLV 55-27 in a game that was closer than the score indicated. It was a seven-point game going into the fourth quarter, with Rebels quarterback Blake Decker throwing the ball at will. Decker ended up with 357 yards through the air, and that turned out being ominous against the two triple-option teams that followed. With that said, the only common opponent for Northern Illinois and Boise State going into the Poinsettia Bowl is UNLV. The Huskies struggled with the Rebels, too, opening the season with a 38-30 victory in DeKalb.

The changed fortunes in Boise State’s pass defense coincided with the loss of cornerback Donte Deayon to a knee injury after the loss to Utah State in October. Deayon returned for the Air Force game, but then Darian Thompson was out with his concussion. After New Mexico threw for an uncharacteristic 271 yards on the Broncos and Air Force 279, San Jose State’s Kenny Potter passed for 336 the day after Thanksgiving. Boise State is anxious to see how things shake out with Deayon and Thompson finally back together in the secondary, accompanied by Jonathan Moxey. Original starter Dylan Sumner-Gardner is out for the season at safety—coaches have to decide between Kam Miles and Chanceller James again at DSG’s spot.

BYU reportedly has “strong interest” in Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo as the successor to soon-to-depart Bronco Mendenhall. But nothing will happen on that front at least until after Saturday’s Army-Navy game. Niumatalolo has guided the Midshipmen to a 9-2 record this season and earned American Athletic Conference co-coach of the year honors. Niumatalolo, whose son, Va’a, is a sophomore linebacker at BYU, knows what it’s like to run a program that has restrictions. And he fills the bill as a member of the LDS church. If Niumatatolo ended up in Provo, there would be another son to wonder about. Ali’I, an inside linebacker at Broadneck High in Annapolis, committed to Boise State in late October

It’s not too hard to answer the “whatever happened to Lee Hightower?” question. Hightower is a backup strong safety for Houston, which is headed to the Peach Bowl against Florida State as the Group of 5’s representative in the New Year’s Six lineup. Three years ago Hightower was a starting safety as a true sophomore at Boise State—until he was suspended by coach Chris Petersen and later left the program. It was sudden and it had to be serious, as Hightower led the Broncos onto the field with the Hammer against UNLV midway through that season, and then never played in another game. He caught on at Houston, where he redshirted in 2013. Hightower had five tackles in the Cougars’ 24-13 win over Temple in the AAC championship game last Saturday. For the season, he has recorded 47 tackles with one interception.

Former Shiloh Keo saw Twitter pay off yesterday. The former Idaho Vandal, out of work in the NFL this season, tweeted Denver defensive coordinator two weeks ago and said, “Didn’t want to pick me up, huh?” after being passed over by the Broncos. The team instead signed Josh Bush. “Keo—Josh was with us in camp and first 4 games,” Phillips tweeted in reply. “You know how much I think of you.” Now Keo’s a backup safety for Denver, which signed him yesterday. He was drafted in the fifth round by Houston in 2011 and played under Phillips there, starting 11 games for the Texans in 2013.

The Idaho Steelheads season has been one long slide, and it continued last night with a 4-0 shutout at the hands of the Allen Americans. Steelheads goalie Maxime Lagace yielded two goals in the first period and two in the third. Former Steelie Tristan King tallied once in each period for Allen. The Idaho penalty kill unit was a perfect 12-for-12 in three games against Florida last week, but at Allen last night it allowed two power play goals. The Steelheads visit Tulsa for the first time tonight and tomorrow night.

Tyus Jones expended a lot of pent-up energy last night. After appearing in only two games with the Minnesota Timberwolves this season, the Most Outstanding Player for Duke at last April’s Final Four started for the Idaho Stampede last night and scored 27 points with eight assists against Texas in CenturyLink Arena. Still, it was the Legends coming away with a 102-96 win to drop the Stampede to 3-9. The Stamps’ other new NBA arrival, Phil Pressey, was at the other end of the spectrum with a 1-for-13 night from the field. Former Boise State guard Thomas Bropleh logged 16 minutes for Texas, going 0-for-5 and notching two rebounds.

This Day In Sports…December 10, 1994:

In the Division I-AA semi-finals at Bronco Stadium, Boise State rallies past Marshall, 28-24, to advance to the championship game the following week on the Thundering Herd’s home field. A battered Tony Hilde threw two first half interceptions and was replaced by Mark Paljatak. Paljatak ate into a 24-7 Marshall lead with a touchdown pass to Lee Schrack just before halftime. Hilde returned in the second half and hit Schrack for the winning TD. Coach Pokey Allen had said he’d ride a horse down Broadway if 20,000 fans showed up. They did—and he did.

(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.)