December 5, 1981: In its first trip ever to the Deep South, Boise State beats Jackson State, 19-7, in the first round of the Division I-AA playoffs.It was a year after the Broncos had won the I-AA national championship, and they were anxious to make another run after being edged out by Idaho State in a tiebreaker for the Big Sky title. The NCAA expanded the playoff field to eight teams in 1981, and Boise State, ranked No. 5 in the country, drew a trip to Mississippi.
Broncos quarterback Tim Klena guided an 81-yard touchdown drive on the first possession against the Tigers, but defense ruled the day from there, as Boise State forced five fumbles and grabbed one big pick. Future Pittsburgh Steeler and former Boise High star Rick Woods set a Broncos postseason record for longest interception return—winding his way for 73 yards to set up the clinching points.
Woods’ mark, incidentally, would stand until Shaunard Harts broke it with an 80-yard pick-six versus Louisville in the 1999 Humanitarian Bowl. That standard was then eclipsed by Andy Avalos with his 92-yard rumble against the same team in the 2004 Liberty Bowl, and again by Jamar Taylor with his school-record 100-yard romp against Arizona State in the 2011 Las Vegas Bowl.
Boise State’s victory over Jackson State set up a rematch of the 1980 championship game the following week, with Eastern Kentucky assigned to visit Bronco Stadium. A win there could have produced a Boise State-Idaho State title game in Wichita Falls, TX. But EKU avenged the loss to the Broncos the previous year in Sacramento by holding off the Broncos 23-17. Idaho State, which had routed Rhode Island 51-0 in the first round, were beating South Carolina State 41-12 at the same time in the Minidome in Pocatello. The Bengals would beat Eastern Kentucky 34-23 to succeed the Broncos as national champions.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)