“This team has something,” said Boise State coach Bryan Harsin Monday. “It’s not schematics. They play for each other. We avoid this individuality which shouldn’t exist on a team.” That has manifested itself most of all in the team’s injury situation, occasionally dire this season. Only Avery Williams has started every game on defense. Harsin and his staff have had to go deep into the bullpen to put the Broncos in a position to defend their Mountain West championship tomorrow night against Fresno State on the blue turf. It would not have worked without buy-in from the entire squad. “This is where guys get in trouble: you’re a backup, and you act like a backup,” said Harsin. He cites preparation all the way down the roster as setting this team apart.
Boise State has had to use almost all the pieces-parts it has on defense this year. Evan Tyler was the latest Bronco to carry the flag, starting at safety in place of the injured Kekoa Nawahine last Saturday. Tyler, who made five tackles in the game, broke up a pass on Utah State’s opening drive—then teamed with Scale Igiehon In stuffing the Aggies’ fake punt attempt in the second quarter, setting up a Boise State touchdown. Harsin feels Tyler typifies the investment all players have in the program right now. “Always prepares, always will prepare,” Harsin said. “That’s never been a problem.” Jordan Happle has become a mainstay at the other safety spot in place of DeAndre Pierce, who’s out for the season.
Other regulars have taken on larger roles. Kekaula Kaniho has been pressed into service at safety and corner out of his normal nickel spot, and he has snagged interceptions in each of the Broncos’ last two games. The “playmaker” moniker has followed him since his remarkable senior season at Kahuku High in Hawaii two years ago. According to National Federation of High School records, Kaniho ranks second all-time for most interceptions returned for touchdowns in one season with his five in 2016. It took current Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to finally tame him in Saint Louis School’s 30-14 win over Kahuku in Hawaii’s Open Division state championship game before 20,000 fans in Aloha Stadium.
Beware the Bulldogs with chips on their shoulders tomorrow night. I can think of two right off the top. Fresno State’s KeeShon Johnson was a second-team wide receiver when All-Mountain West honors were announced Wednesday. This is a guy who has 19 catches for 272 yards and three touchdowns in the past three games versus Boise State. With his first catch in the championship game, Johnson will tie the conference record for most consecutive games with a receptions at 49. Then there’s Bulldog quarterback Marcus McMaryion, who was relegated to honorable mention behind the Broncos’ Brett Rypien and Utah State’s Jordan Love on the all-conference team. McMaryion completed 69 percent of his throws for 283 yards and a TD three weeks ago at Albertsons Stadium and passed for 332 versus Boise State last year at Bulldog Stadium.
IT ONLY GETS BETTER IN ‘BIG D’ FOR LVE
Leighton Vander Esch, the MVP of last year’s Mountain West championship game, is now the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for the Dallas Cowboys. And that was even before another sterling 10-tackle performance in the Cowboys’ 13-10 win over New Orleans last night on the second-to-last day of November. It was Vander Esch who ended McMaryion’s quest for a title with a game-sealing interception in Boise State’s 17-14 win a year ago. Now the Wolf Hunter is coming out of a month that saw him rack up 49 tackles officially (the Cowboys coaching staff gives him credit for a lot more after reviewing tape) and two interceptions. Vander Esch is the first Cowboy in 13 years to win the honor. And a little birdie in Riggins tells me he’s coming to Boise for the game tomorrow night.
UTAH STATE HAS A JOB OPENING
Turns out last Saturday night’s game on the blue was the last one at Utah State for coach Matt Wells. Late yesterday, Texas Tech announced the hiring of Wells to replace Kliff Kingsbury, who was fired Sunday after a 5-7 season. Wells was actually on a semi-hot seat at USU after back-to-back losing campaigns. Then he and the Aggies rolled out their 10-2 season this fall, reaching as high as No. 14 in the AP Poll. Wells was named coach of the year in the Mountain West for a second time on Wednesday. He’s originally from Oklahoma, so the theory is he won’t be a fish out of water in the Lone Star state.
CRANKY BUNCH OF BISON AWAIT IN FARGO
Guess who former Boise State assistant Jeff Choate and his Montana State Bobcats have drawn in the second round of the FCS Playoffs. Yes, it’s North Dakota State, which won five straight FCS national championships from 2011-15 (the first three under current Wyoming coach Craig Bohl) and a sixth last year. The Bison are top-ranked and have something sticking in their craw regarding the Bobcats. MSU was supposed to play in the Fargodome to kick off the 2013 season—after NDSU’s first two titles—but paid a buyout and didn’t go. The ‘Cats, who beat Incarnate Word 35-14 in the first round in Bozeman last Saturday, have no choice this time. Also in the FCS Playoffs tomorrow, Dan Hawkins and UC Davis host Northern Iowa.
HOOPS – THERE AND HERE AND THERE
It took double-overtime for Boise State to beat Grand Canyon 85-80 last year in Taco Bell Arena. It took a 27-point night from Chandler Hutchison and a three-pointer at the buzzer in regulation from Lexus Williams to get there. Neither guy is a Bronco anymore. ‘Nuff said going into tomorrow night’s game in Phoenix against the Antelopes. GCU is 4-3 after a couple of narrow losses to Seton Hall and Utah at the Wooden Legacy Classic. The crowd will be an issue down there—it’s a tough place to play. Grand Canyon regularly draws 3,000 to its student section, one of the most rabid in the country, known as the “Havocs.”
Around the horn on campus: College of Idaho, up to No. 2 in the nation in NAIA Division II, host two other ranked teams to begin league play this weekend in Caldwell. The Coyotes face No. 22 Oregon Tech and No. 13 Southern Oregon to open the Cascade Conference schedule. Northwest Nazarene began conference play on the road last night with an 87-86 win at Seattle Pacific to move to 6-0. The Nighthawks play at Saint Martin’s tomorrow. And the Boise State women play at Washington State tomorrow. The Broncos are No. 45 in the NCAA’s first women’s basketball RPI of the season. There’ll be no June Daugherty on the Cougars’ bench. The veteran coach, who led the Broncos from 1989-96, and her husband and long-time assistant Mike have retired to Boise.
STEELIES SET FOR NOW IN GOAL
The Idaho Steelheads meet the Jacksonville Icemen for the first time in their history with games tonight and tomorrow night in CenturyLink Arena. The Steelheads appear to be finding their rhythm after taking two of three in last week’s series at Rapid City. Tomas Sholl was the star between the pipes, recording two shutouts to give him a total of six as a Steelie, the second-most in franchise history. And Sholl has done it in only 18 games. And now Idaho has it’s one-two punch back, as Ryan Faragher has returned to the Steelheads after completing his Professional Tryout Contract with Stockton of the AHL.
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November 30, 2013, five years ago today: One of the craziest finishes in college football history leads to a 34-28 Auburn victory over Alabama in the Iron Bowl. With overtime looming and the Crimson Tide trying to protect its No. 1 ranking, ‘Bama lined up for a 57-yard field goal try with one second left. The kick was short, and the Tigers’ Chris Davis caught it nine yards deep in the end zone. Davis then ran 109 yards (100 officially) with no time on the clock to give Auburn a truly unbelievable victory and end Alabama’s hopes of a third straight national championship.
(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.)