Boise State’s 24-7 win over BYU is living proof that you never know how things will shake out. After a public clamoring for Robert Mahone to start at running back, the redshirt freshman did just that after leading the Broncos on the field with the Hammer as a nod to his blocked punt against Virginia. But Mahone fumbled on his fourth carry, and he was not seen again. So would the Broncos go back in the abyss, with only the passing game giving them a shot at moving the ball? Well, Alexander Mattison awakened and rushed for 118 yards and two touchdowns while Brett Rypien was throwing for only 125 (albeit with his first touchdown pass of the year). What many doubted could happen did—Boise State won it with its running game, chewing clock and converting third downs. Against the free-falling Cougars, it was enough.
A 300-yard offense worked Friday night because the Boise State offensive line played its best game of the season. The unit did not allow a sack and cleared space up the middle against a stout BYU defensive front. The Broncos did it with their O-line leader, center Mason Hampton, out with an injury. But he was capable replaced by fellow Idahoan Garrett Larsen. The night was defined by two drives. One was a 74-yarder in a two-minute drill at the end of the first half capped by Rypien’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Sean Modster. The other was the 82-yard march bridging the third and fourth quarters that saw the Broncos convert four third downs.
It was a very disciplined effort on both sides of the ball. Boise State committed just one penalty all night, a false start early in the second quarter. And the defense stuck with its assignments, knowing there would be a payoff against an immensely struggling BYU offense. The Broncos held the Cougars to 238 total yards, just 66 on the ground (why the Cougars gave Ula Tolutau the ball only twice in the second half is a mystery, though). Boise State clogged the passing lanes well, with six pass breakups that included two interceptions. On each pick, field position was flipped. Kekoa Nawahine returned his 51 yards to set up a field goal in the second quarter, and Leighton Vander Esch—after leaving momentarily in the fourth quarter with an injury—took his interception back 36 yards.
Tanner Mangum was still in a walking boot last Thursday, but he started at quarterback for BYU Friday after missing two games with an ankle injury. You had to feel for the former Eagle Mustang—he obviously wasn’t 100 percent, but the Cougars had no choice but to play him. Mangum went 18-of-33 for 164 yards with the two interceptions before exiting late in the fourth quarter. Was it too late? With 2:17 left in the game, the Cougars inserted true freshman Joe Critchlow at quarterback, burning his redshirt year. It seems BYU coach Kalani Sitake wouldn’t activate Critchlow unless he felt Critchlow was going to contribute the rest of the season. But if that was the plan, why not insert Critchlow earlier in the second half, when Mangum was clearly uncomfortable?
Now it’s on to the San Diego State game for the Broncos, and the script has flipped since the teams last met in 2014. It’s the Aztecs who are solidly entrenched in the Mountain West catbird’s seat, moving up to No. 19 in the AP Poll and No. 18 in the Coaches Poll after their 41-10 win at UNLV Saturday night. One other Mountain West nugget: Air Force came oh-so-close to a stirring comeback win at Navy Saturday, but it was not to be, as the Midshipmen scored with 15 seconds left to pull out a 48-45 victory. It would not only have helped the Falcons’ case for the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy, it would have been a Mountain West statement of sorts versus the American Athletic Conference, which keeps fancying itself as a sixth power conference.
Idaho picked a bad time to stumble offensively. Before a loud homecoming crowd of 14,198, Louisiana-Lafayette took down the Vandals 21-16 as Matt Linehan went just 13-of-28 for 149 yards, part of a season-low 279 yards of total offense for UI. The Ragin’ Cajuns were able to withstand a stellar defensive effort by Idaho. The Vandals recorded seven sacks, their most in a game in 18 years and the sixth-most in a game in the FBS this season. Idaho linebacker Leonard Hazewood was all over the field. The senior from Sacramento tallied career-highs of 3.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles-for-loss.
Carroll College is a shadow of its former national championship self, but a road win in Helena is still a coveted commodity. College of Idaho won there for the first time Saturday, stifling the Fighting Saints in a 21-6 victory. The Coyotes held Carroll to 265 yards of total offense while true freshman Nick Calzaretta was rushing for two C of I touchdowns. When the Saints pulled to within 14-6 with 9:20 remaining in the game, the Yotes did not take their collective foot off the pedal. They drove 73 yards in seven plays, capped by Calzaretta’s 20-yard TD run to put the game away. In Pocatello, Idaho State had its own Montana rival to deal with, as in the University of Montana. After a gallant effort, the Bengals fell to the Grizzlies for the 12th straight time, 39-31.
Darian Thompson’s best game as a pro went for naught yesterday, as the New York Giants fell to 0-5 in a 27-22 loss to the L.A. Chargers. The former Boise State star made 11 tackles, eight of them solo, had a quarterback hit, and broke up two passes, one of them resulting in his first NFL interception. The 11 stops were five more than he’s had in any other NFL game. Elsewhere yesterday, Jay Ajayi had a workmanlike 77 yards rushing on 25 carries, just 3.1 yards per tote, but it was enough to help Miami beat Tennessee 16-10. Ajayi did lose a fumble in the second quarter that led to a Titans field goal.
More from the pro front: a splendid start to the 2017-18 PGA Tour season for Graham DeLaet. The Boise State grad contended from the get-go at the Safeway Open in Napa, CA, finishing in a tie for fifth yesterday and pocketing $235,600. DeLaet had to fend off a couple early bogeys in the final round to shoot an even-par 72, following a 69-67-69 card over the first three days. Fellow former Bronco Troy Merritt barely made the cut Friday—then endured a tough weekend, shooting 75-74. And the Idaho Steelheads tuned up for the 2017-18 season with a home-and-home exhibition sweep of the Utah Grizzlies. The Steelies won 2-1 in West Valley City and 5-2 in Boise. They open the campaign this Friday night in CenturyLink Arena against the Norfolk Admirals.
This Day In Sports…October 9, 1989:
The San Francisco Giants win their first pennant in 27 years, ending Chicago’s latest World Series dream. The Giants beat the Cubs 3-2 at Candlestick Park to take the National League Championship Series, four games to one. Will Clark hit .650 in the NLCS to win MVP honors, leading the Giants into a Bay Bridge Series against the Oakland A’s—one that would be interrupted for 10 days by the Loma Prieta earthquake.
(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.)