These Bronco no-stars have grit

When the first-team All-Mountain West squad is unveiled in March, it’s unlikely any Boise State players will be on it. There aren’t any bonafide stars on this team. Nevada will have…what? Three? You can’t ask any more of this year’s Broncos than what they gave in Tuesday night’s 72-71 loss to the 10th-ranked Wolf Pack. With a nine-point deficit at halftime, the writing appeared to be on the wall for Boise State, as the Pack tends to go off in the second half. But as coach Leon Rice said on the KBOI postgame show, “we settled down at halftime and then played some better basketball.” The Broncos were not discouraged, and it was a little bit of everybody that got them back in it. Alex Hobbs, Justinian Jessup and Derrick Alston all made big plays that led to the final-minute lead that ultimately didn’t hold up.

Nevada hit answer after answer, inviting Boise State to wilt. But the Wolf Pack couldn’t shake the Broncos, who offset the Pack’s hot shooting with an impressive second half effort on the boards, outrebounding the visitors by seven. And the first win over a top 10 team in school history was within the Broncos’ grasp until Cody Martin, who had missed all 11 three-pointers he had attempted in Mountain West play, hit the game-winning trey with 4½ seconds left. If just one more Boise State three-pointer has gone in, or one more missed Zach Haney layup had dropped…

The record will show that Boise State is 0-5 in games decided by three points or less and hasn’t won a game decided by single digits this season. It will also show that Nevada has won five straight over the Broncos and has taken 12 of the last 18 games between the two teams in Taco Bell Arena. But the past is irrelevant. The most important takeaway from Tuesday night’s game is the massive progress the team has made since some of the disjointed efforts in November and December. It was a loss, but maybe the Broncos sold themselves to a wary fan base. In the second half, the crowd of 8,022 was louder than any in that building this season—maybe louder than any last season, for that matter. Let’s see where it goes from here.

THE ALTERNATE ROUTE TO THE NFL

Brett Rypien’s portfolio is surely Senior Bowl-worthy. He started during almost all of his four years at Boise State and is the FBS active leader and the Mountain West all-time leader with 13,581 career passing yards. But the 2018 conference Ofensive Player of the Year will be hanging his hat on the East-West Shrine Game Saturday in St. Petersburg. The previous three Bronco quarterbacks in the Shrine Game, Ryan Dinwiddie, Bart Hendricks and Jim McMillan, all went to NFL camps but never played a down at the top level. But that doesn’t preclude Rypien from making it to the Show, especially considering his showing so far in practice this week.

A MANUFACTURED COLLECTOR’S ITEM

Making the rounds on Twitter Tuesday was an image of a Boston College Eagles T-shirt that reads: “Champions. First Responder Bowl 2018. 7-0.” Who are these guys, UCF? It is actually for sale, but not through the school. BC is not involved in this. This might be more unique: “Leading. First Responder Bowl 2018. 7-0. 5:08 left in the first quarter.” At least it would start a conversation.

ATTRITION OPENS THE DOOR FOR LVE

It’s icing on the rookie cake for Leighton Vander Esch. Lots of us were hoping things would shake out this way. Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly has pulled out of the Pro Bowl due to injury, and Vander Esch is in a week from Sunday in Orlando. The pride of Riggins broke the Dallas rookie record for tackles this season with 140 (it’s 176 if you go by the coaching staff’s count). Vander Esch was supposed to back up Sean Lee with the Cowboys in 2018 but overtook Lee so convincingly that the veteran himself opted out of the starting lineup in Week 15 so as not to slow the train. LVE is the first Cowboys defensive rookie to make the Pro Bowl in 37 years. Vander Esch will be joining fellow Cowboy and former Boise State star DeMarcus Lawrence at the game (along with the Dallas coaching staff).

Fans in Dallas zero in on Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ weekly radio appearance to see what nuggets he’ll dangle out there. On Monday, coach Jason Garrett had said he was not anticipating significant changes to his coaching staff and intimated that offensive coordinator Scott Linehan would remain with the team. By osmosis, such comments affect not only Linehan, the former Vandal, but quarterbacks coach Kellen Moore, the former Bronco. But later in the day, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones, Jerry’s son, said on 105.3FM The Fan that it was too early to speculate on such things. And Jones the owner said on the station Tuesday that his “options are open. Nobody knows.”

TURKEY DAY LEFTOVERS TASTING GOOD

The Idaho Steelheads must have had some kinda Thanksgiving dinner, because since then they’ve won 15 of 18 games on their way to first place in the ECHL Mountain Division. The Allen Americans are next on the docket, as they come into CenturyLink Arena to open a three-game series tonight. Last Friday marked the halfway point of the 2018-19 season, with the Steelheads sporting a 22-11-3 record. It’s the third straight season they’ve had at least 20 wins and 45 points midway through. Idaho’s been doing wonders on the offensive end, having scored four or more goals in eight of its last nine games.

THE OTHER BOISE STATE-NEVADA GAME

Tonight in Reno it’s a rematch of the 2018 Mountain West Tournament women’s championship game, as Boise State visits Nevada. It took a putback at the buzzer by A’Shanti Coleman last March for the Broncos to cement their third conference title in four years—that’s how close the Wolf Pack was from going to the NCAA Tournament instead. Fast forward to the present, and junior Riley Lupfer may or may not hit the 1,000-point mark for he career tonight. She’s 20 points away.

This Day In Sports…brought to you by TRI STATE ELECTRIC…let us bring the power to you!

January 16, 2003: Reacting to the controversial tie that ended the 2002 All-Star Game, big league owners vote to award home-field advantage in the World Series to the winner of the Midsummer Classic. It was supposed to be an incentive to All-Star Game managers and participants to manage and play to win. The American League benefitted from the rule, prevailing in 11 of the next 14 All-Star Games, but the National League won eight of the ensuing World Series. Beginning in 2017, home-field advantage would go to the participant with the best regular-season record.

(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.)