The Bulldogs’ day—far and away

There was an omen early in the Boise State-Fresno State game Saturday. Third down had been the Bulldog offense’s Achilles heel all season, with a conversion rate of just 35 percent. On Fresno State’s initial third down of the day’s opening drive (a third-and-nine, no less), Marcus McMaryion hit Da’Mari Scott for 26 yards and a first down. The Bulldogs looked like they had come to make plays. Their second third down ended in their first touchdown of the game—they converted 56 percent for the afternoon. The dagger actually came on a first down, the 81-yard TD bomb from McMaryion to KeeSean Johnson one play after the Broncos had narrowed the deficit to 19-17 in the fourth quarter. Fresno State actually looked a lot like vintage Boise State in ending the Broncos’ seven-game winning streak with a 28-17 win.

Talk about missed opportunities. Boise State left points on the table three times in the first half Saturday afternoon and paid for it against a very focused Fresno State football team. The first came when the score was tied 7-7 and the Broncos moved deftly downfield after their defense got a pair of three-and-out stops in the first quarter. One drive ended on a missed Haden Hoggarth field goal, and the next one was stopped by a failed Brett Rypien sneak on a fourth-and-one early in the second. A very deflating sequence. Boise State stayed on the attack midway through the second quarter, as Rypien hit A.J. Richardson for 26 yards to the Bulldog 14. That was called back by a chop block penalty. Next thing you know it’s first-and-25 back at the Bronco 45-yard line, and three plays later came a punt.

The Fresno State defense looked good on paper going into the game—statistically the best in the Mountain West. The Bulldogs backed it up on the field, bottling up the Boise State running game and making the Broncos depend on the pass. Brett Rypien threw well, but most of the damage came between the 20’s, as Boise State was held to its fewest points in a Mountain West game in more than three years. Every yard Alexander Mattison gained was a battle; he had 63 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. The Broncos managed only 107 yards on the ground after totaling 90 in the win over Air Force the week before. That will be a point of contention when these teams play Round 2 this Saturday.

The official announcement came Sunday morning: the Mountain West championship game will be played on the blue turf this Saturday night by virtue of the four computer polls utilized by the conference (Anderson & Hester, Billingsley, Colley Matrix and Wolfe). Boise State finished the season with a 30.25 average ranking, while Fresno State had a 34.25 average. The loss to UNLV was obviously the dealbreaker for the Bulldogs. That doesn’t make Fresno faithful feel any better—Fresno State debuted in the AP Poll yesterday at No. 25, and the Broncos dropped out. The Bulldogs garnered 70 points in the Coaches Poll to Boise State’s 15. And there was consolation yesterday for the West Division bridesmaid, San Diego State. The Aztecs got back into the Coaches Poll, ahead of the two teams that beat them this season.

The Mountain West has six eligible teams for its five guaranteed bowl games after UNLV failed to join the club Saturday. The Rebels ended up with a losing season—and without the Fremont Cannon again—after falling 23-16 to Nevada at Mackay Stadium Saturday. The Wolf Pack finished its season 3-9, but it takes a healthy dose of satisfaction into the offseason. The other significant happening was San Diego State notching its 10th victory of the season in a 35-10 rout of New Mexico while becoming the first team in college football history with back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons by different running backs. Rashaad Penny matched Donnel Pumphrey’s feat last year and now stands at 2,027 yards after a 203-yard day. And to think the nation’s leading rusher was left off the list of finalists for the Doak Walker Award last week.

Is there any doubt that turnovers will kill ya? On its first two possessions at New Mexico State Saturday, Idaho suffered an interception by quarterback Mason Petrino and a fumble lost by wide receiver Alfonso Onunwor. The Aggies cashed in on both takeaways and led 14-0. The final score was NMSU 17, Vandals 10. Petrino had to leave the game when he was sacked a second time and was replaced by Lewiston true freshman Colton Richardson, who went 18-of-33 for 167 yards and a touchdown with one pick—but was sacked a staggering 10 times. Idaho, down to its third-string QB, could only muster 215 total yards. All seven of the Vandals’ Sun Belt games this season have been one-possession contests, with the five losses decided by a combined 24 points.

Boise State was without Chandler Hutchison Saturday night, and the Broncos looked a bit shellshocked again without him—at least when Loyola Marymount took a 40-34 with 14 minutes to go in Taco Bell Arena. It was then that the Broncos went on an astounding 33-4 run and won going away 68-48. They did it with defense and grit on the glass, as they shot under 40 percent for the game. The rebounding margin was 48-24 for the home team, with Christian Sengfelder and Zach Haney each pulling down 10 boards. And it was the first time Boise State has held a Division I team under 50 points in almost three years.

The Broncos started Justinian Jessup in place of Hutchison, who was still out after the blow to the head he suffered in a fall to the floor last Sunday versus Iowa State. And Jessup had a Hutch-like scoring night, matching his career high with 22 points. Jessup, who started 31 of 32 games last season as a true freshman, played 37 minutes and turned the ball over only twice. He also went 7-for-8 from the free throw line. Boise State doesn’t want to go too long without Hutchison, but now they believe they always have a chance. That will be important tomorrow night if the Preseason Mountain West Player of the Year is out for the game against undefeated Loyola-Chicago.

After a second straight loss to Allen Friday, the Idaho Steelheads salvaged one win out of the three-game Thanksgiving weekend series against the Americans with a dominating 5-1 win Saturday night. Henrik Samuelsson scored two power-play goals, Jefferson Dahl contributed three assists, and goalie Philippe Desrosiers returned from a cup of coffee with Texas of the AHL to make 25 saves. The sidebar to this one: it was a poster game for the “fighting in hockey” debate. The night featured 148 penalty minutes, six fighting majors, and three game misconducts.

This Day In Sports…November 27, 2004:

With six inches of snow having been cleared off the field at Mackay Stadium, and Boise State fans literally outnumbering Nevada fans, the Broncos proceed to pummel the Wolf Pack 58-21 to complete their first undefeated regular season. Jared Zabransky threw for three touchdowns and BSU scored three more on the ground to set a season rushing TD record with 46, as the Broncos notched their third straight WAC 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.)