The Poinsettia Bowl effect, revisited

Boise State coach Bryan Harsin characterizes his team as anxious to hit the reset button. When asked about the Broncos’ mindset at his pre-Cactus Bowl press conference last week after the dominoes all fell the wrong way on Thanksgiving weekend, Harsin said, “To win. We didn’t win—that’s the bottom line. You’re trying to win your conference, you’re trying to go out and win a trophy, you’re trying to win a football game, and we didn’t do that.” Therefore, Boise State is not wearing its record as a badge of honor. “We’re not sitting around patting ourselves on the back saying, ’10-and-2, that’s exactly what we were shooting for,’” Harsin said. “We were trying to play in a championship game. That championship game had a trophy. And we didn’t get in.” It was a rather stern statement.

So how does that set the table in facing a hard-to-predict Baylor team? “I think (we’re) very focused, and understanding we’ve got one more shot,” said Harsin. “And we want to finish with a win. And we want to correct all the things from this season. We want to correct the things from the last game.” And there’s this: “We’re really creating the direction were headed for ’17.” That’s kind of the way the Poinsettia Bowl was viewed a year ago after Boise State went 8-4 in the regular season. The Broncos produced their most dominating postseason performance ever in the 55-7 win over Northern Illinois. Did that one carry over into 2016? Maybe it did, as they started 8-0. The Poinsettia Bowl effect is past-tense now. Boise State is on its own for the finish.

With Idaho cruising along at 8-4 as the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl approaches Thursday, you’d think it was all about quarterback Matt Linehan having a great junior year for the Vandals. But really it’s been about everyone around him stepping it up a notch. Linehan’s numbers haven’t changed much from the 4-8 campaign last year. His completion percentage is down about two points, passing yards by 15 per game, and pass efficiency rating by about five points to 130.5. Linehan has thrown one less interception, but one less touchdown pass as well. What’s striking this season, though: the interceptions have come in bunches, and he hasn’t had the glaring mistakes that he may have had his first two seasons. Linehan has improved as the season has progressed and is hoping for an exclamation point on the blue turf.

A story in the Coloradoan says Colorado State is “in this game to win it.” According to senior wide receiver Robert Ruiz, the Rams are approaching the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl with the same intensity they had for their final game at Hughes Stadium, a 49-31 win over New Mexico, and their last game of the regular season, a 63-31 rout of Mountain West champion San Diego State. They aim to come away with a victory, something they didn’t do in their last two bowl appearances. CSU lost 45-10 to Utah in the 2014 Las Vegas Bowl and 28-23 to Nevada in last year’s Arizona Bowl, and the bitterness lingers.

San Diego State struck a much-needed positive note for the Mountain West by drilling Houston 34-10 Saturday in the Las Vegas Bowl. The first quarter looked like one of those days for the conference as the Aztecs fell behind 10-0. But Donnel Pumphrey got untracked and became college football’s career rushing leader with 6,405 yards. Pumphrey ended his senior season with 2,133 yards. The Cougars’ star quarterback, Greg Ward Jr., threw four second-half interceptions. The MW went 2-0 Saturday, as New Mexico picked up its first bowl win in nine years and only its second since 1961 by edging UTSA 23-20 in the New Mexico Bowl.

Having not played a game in 13 days, Boise State appeared to be shaking off some cobwebs when it led Idaho State by four points at the half yesterday. Then the Broncos began the second half on a 20-4 run, with Chandler Hutchison scoring 10 of his team-high 16 points during that stretch, and they ran away with an 82-59 win in Taco Bell Arena. The lead reached 30 points with a minute and a half left. The Bengals were led by senior star Ethan Telfair with 19 points, but he was neutralized in the second half, primarily due to a strong defensive effort by Paris Austin.

Boise State certainly shifted gears after the intermission. “If we play with an edge, we’re a pretty good team,” said coach Leon Rice on his KBOI postgame show. “When we try to play finesse basketball, we’re not a very good team.” The edge showed up most impressively on the boards, where the Broncos out-rebounded Idaho State 41-24 for the game. Nick Duncan pulled down eight rebounds to go with his 15 points, and David Wacker had another eight boards while scoring 15 points. Hutchison contributed seven rebounds. Boise State now preps for its final non-conference game of the season, Wednesday night at home versus Cal State Northridge.

Gordy Presnell as a coach and Boise State as a program hit the mark yesterday in a 74-60 women’s basketball win over Portland. It was Presnell’s 600th career victory, and the program’s 300th win in Taco Bell Arena since the facility opened 34 years ago. Presnell is in his 12th season at Boise State and his 30th overall as a collegiate head coach—he spent his first 18 years at Seattle Pacific. “Coaching is a really nomadic sport when everyone is going all over the place, but I feel really fortunate to have just stayed at two universities,” said Presnell.

Elsewhere in hoops, the 24th-ranked College of Idaho men rallied from a 20-point first-half deficit to defeat Corban 78-74 Saturday night. That came on the heels of another grinder, a 65-60 victory over 7th-ranked Northwest Christian on Friday night. And the Idaho Vandal men got out of the gates quickly and rolled to an 87-61 win over Northwest Nazarene Saturday night in Memorial Gym (I thought the Vandals were going to finally get to play in Cowan Spectrum). Victor Sanders paced Idaho with 18 points, while NNU was led by Bouna N’Diaye with 16 points. The Crusaders designated the game as an exhibition on their schedule.

All three games in the Idaho Steelheads-Rapid City series were one-sided, and the final two went the Steelheads’ way over the weekend in CenturyLink Arena. Friday Idaho turned around its power play performance in a 6-2 rout, getting three tallies on the man-advantage. One of them came from Travis Ewanyk, who added another goal on a breakaway and had an assist for his first three-point game of the year. Ewanyk now has 16 points in his last 15 games. Saturday the Rush scored first, but the Steelheads were otherwise relentless in the first period, putting up 23 shots-on-goal, a season-high for a single period. The Steelies got only one Rob Linsmayer’s goal out of it, but the tone was set. It was Linsmayer’s turn for a multi-goal night, as he had one of the Steelheads’ three second-period scores in a 5-2 victory.

This Day In Sports…December 19, 1980:

Quarterback Jim McMahon leads BYU to a thrilling 46-45 come-from-behind win over SMU in the Holiday Bowl. The 14th-ranked Cougars trailed 45-25 before mounting their comeback in the final four minutes of the game. Still trailing by six points, BYU blocked a punt on the SMU 41-yard line with 13 seconds left. On the final play of the game, McMahon connected with Clay Brown on a Hail Mary to finish off the 19th-ranked Mustangs. McMahon threw for 446 yards on the night, with 239 yards coming in the fourth quarter alone.

(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.)