The final game before the Boise State bowl. The Broncos had the opportunity to capture Head Coach Bryan Harsin’s second Mountain West Conference title. Regardless of how the bowl game ends, this game is going to be used as the barometer of whether or not the season was a success. As one of the major goals of the football program, a loss here would be problematic for the team. Taking the lessons from last week’s letdown loss in Fresno, the Broncos made it a focus for the week to get better and take the conference title.
The first series for the Broncos has been problematic as of late. Allowing a TD score on the first drive in five of the last eight games. The Bulldogs were able to march down the field well enough. Everything Fresno State wanted to do gained yards outside of a Marcus McMaryion pass. Which is fortunate as it put the Bulldogs behind. They attempted a field goal but the ball doinked off the right upright.
The first series for the Broncos almost met with a bum play as a tipped ball to Wilson almost created an interception for the Bulldogs. Upon further review, the ball hit the ground. No matter as Brett Rypien was sacked on the next play for a six yard loss and the Broncos opted to punt away.
The next series was not a memorable one for the Bulldogs as they hit an immediate three-and-out that was exacerbated with a false start. Fresno State had hit a 14-yard pass but it was not enough for a first down. Then they took a delay of game penalty (for some reason) that actually made the punt worth it.
The next Boise State possession saw the Broncos march down the field, but could only muster a Hayden Hoggarth field goal.
After a tradeoff of possessions, the Bulldogs would get on the board with on a good playcall from Fresno State. Facing a fourth-and-goal on the Bronco two, Fresno State QB Marcus McMaryion kept the ball on a roll out for the easy six points midway through the second quarter.
With the next Broncos possession Brett Rypien did hit AJ Richardson with a great 40-yard pass. But the offense stalled which caused a Skillin punt. The punt was a thing of beauty, however, that was downed on the 1 yard line. After a few futile plays from the Bulldogs, they opted to punt. Avery Williams brought the back all the way back to the Fresno State four. Three plays later, Alexander Mattison rushed the ball into the endzone for the Broncos’ first TD of the game.
Undaunted, Fresno State would manage a five-play offensive drive that was capped off with a Marcus McMaryion rush for a touchdown. He had rushed it twice on this drive. The previous rush he had was a 22-yard scramble on a broken play. Leighton Vander Esch had the opportunity at a sack, but McMaryion managed to get away. Vander Esch did eventually get the tackle.
The end of the second half ended with a whimper as the Broncos failed to get consistent first downs. Joel Velazquez would end up punting the ball away with a shade over a minute in the second quarter. Fresno State wouldn’t do much with their final possession either and ended up kneeling to end the half.
Coming out of the half, it would be crucial for the Broncos to not only score, but do so convincingly. Fresno State would have all the confidence after the first half showing. The Broncos would need the momentum to stay in this game.
The first series in the third quarter, the Broncos moved the ball frustratingly “well.” By that I mean they made every first down a chore. While trying to establish the run game, both Mattison and Ryan Wolpin gained some yards. But, following the same script as early in the game, the Broncos stalled on the Fresno State 30. A failed field goal by Hayden Hoggarth would end the Broncos’ chances. Yet another time on the Fresno side of the field without points.
The two teams would trade shots for the rest of the third quarter. Mostly big gains followed by a touchdown. Alexander Mattison was brought down after a seven yard gain, but his leg would get caught underneath him in an ugly twist.
The fourth quarter wasn’t too much more than a punt fest in between penalties. The bright spot? A 90-yard (technically 95 with a penalty at the start) drive where Cedrick Wilson caught a beautiful pass from Rypien that comprised 59 of it. Wolping came up huge in the drive with some critical carries. The most important one? Where he scored the touchdown to get the Broncos in front 17-14.
The defense held the Bulldogs to a three-and-out that came up inspired.
It all really came down to the Bulldogs’ last possession. And a fired up Leighton Vander Esch. He intercepted an ill-advised throw by Marcus McMaryion to end the game. The Broncos took three kneels and the game was in hand.
The Mountain West 2017 Champions!