A crowd of 33,161 fans were on hand in Qualcomm Stadium, in San Diego Saturday night to watch the San Diego State Aztecs (7-4, 6-1 MWC) outplay and out coach the Boise State Broncos (7-4, 5-2 MWC) for the second year in row. The Broncos now have their fourth loss on the season. The win also settles who might be the second-best team in the conference behind Fresno State, who is the only MW team to hand both teams a loss this season.
The Aztecs were in firm control in the first half, while the Broncos, the odds-on favorite, once again took the field with another lackluster starting performance in what has become their signature this season. The Aztecs, on the other hand, showed up with enthusiasm and determination to play all four quarters. On their second possession of the game QB Quinn Kaehler took the Aztecs down the field where RB Adam Muema took it in for the score on 4th and Goal. On the ensuing kickoff Boise State showed a spark of life when Bryan Douglas took the ball 100 yards for a TD and tied the game. But the Aztecs quickly answered in the beginning of the second quarter when Kaehler threw a TD pass to Adam Roberts and San Diego State went into the locker room at the half up 14-7.
Both the San Diego and Boise State defenses arose to the occasion. To be fair, the Broncos defense held the Aztecs in check in the first half or the scores could have been lopsided. When the Broncos went in at halftime offensive coordinator Robert Prince and his struggling offense had just 49 total yards to show for two quarters of effort. More revealing was that the Broncos were held to 10 yards rushing on 12 attempts that averaged a paltry .08 yards a carry in the first half. It was only thanks to a stubborn Boise State defense anchored by LB Demarcus Lawrence and DT Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe that the Aztecs were held to two TD’s and kept the Broncos in the game.
The third quarter began with the Broncos going 3 and out. But halfway into the quarter Boise State scored when RB Jay Ajayi rushed 31 yards for a TD. On the ensuing kickoff, San Diego State’s Colin Lockett received the ball but fumbled on the return. It was recovered by Boise State’s Taylor Loffler at the SD 24. Boise State put up 7 points on the turnover when QB Grant Hedrick threw a pass to WR Shane Williams-Rhodes who took it in for the TD, giving the Broncos their first lead of the night.
San Diego came right back to tie it early in the 4th quarter when one of Hedrick’s passes was intercepted by DB J.J. Whittaker at the Boise State 18, who returned it for a TD. Hedrick was able to shake off the miscue and threw another pass a few minutes later to WR Matt Miller that was good for 10 yards and a TD. Score: Boise State 28, San Diego State, 21.
That was about the time Boise State’s Special Teams wheels came off. Kicker Trevor Harman’s punt of 34 yards was returned by San Diego WR Tim Vizzi for 41 yards and a TD to once again tie the game with 4:04 left on the clock. Both defenses held from then on setting up the final botched play of the game. With 3 seconds to go in regulation and the pressure on, Boise State kicker Dan Goodale missed a game-winning field goal from 43 yards. Goodale was riding a streak of 12 successful field goals coming into the game, including a 47 yard season best last week against Wyoming. It was Déjà vu for the Broncos: The last time Goodale missed an all-important game winner was against TCU in 2011, and it cost the Broncos a trip to the Rose Bowl.
San Diego won the overtime toss and deferred to the Broncos. The Broncos were held out the end zone and on 4th and 14, opted for another Goodale field goal attempt. This time it was good and the score was Boise State, 31, San Diego, 28. Predictably, San Diego drove for a TD due to kicking problems of their own. In five plays Kaehler threw a 10 yard pass to Colin Lockett for the winning TD.
Boise State was able to stuff the run but continued a season-long struggle against the pass. San Diego State put up 349 total yards, and only 61 on the ground. Kaehler was 23 of 37 through the air for 288 yards, 2 TD’s and an INT. Lockett caught 3 passes for 61 yards and a TD, and Dylan Denso caught 4 for 78 yards. The Aztec ground game was almost nonexistent. Muema, who had the 1st quarter TD, ended the night with just 46 yards on 24 carries, a meager average of 1.9 yards a touch.
Except for a few individual spurts Boise State appeared to employ an sluggish, sometimes confused, quick-strike option. The San Diego defensive unit seemed to pour through the Broncos O-line almost at will, continually harassing Hedrick and his backfield. What is also telling is the time of possession: Boise State held the ball for 23:16 seconds, and San Diego State a whopping 36:42. In the end the Broncos accounted for 297 total yards with all but the first 49 coming in the second half. Hedrick managed to end the game with 21 of 35 pass attempts for 202 yards, 2 TD’s and 2 INTs. Eight of his passes went to Matt Miller for 80 yards and a TD. Boise State RB Jay Ajayi closed out his night with 22 carries for 103 yards.
Next up for the Aztecs: Saturday, November 30, vs UNLV, 8:30 PM MT in Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, NV.
Next up for the Broncos: Saturday, November 30, vs New Mexico, 8:15 PM MT in Bronco Stadium, Boise, ID.