Four years ago Boise State worked out a home-and-home deal with Washington. Little did both sides know the implications such a deal would have on the college football world. At the time the deal was made, Chris Petersen was still the head coach at Boise State, while Steve Sarkisian was steering the ship at Washington.
As if stolen from a Hollywood movie script, Petersen jumped ship to Washington in 2013, setting up a premier match up on the back end of the home-and-home with Boise State.
Anticipation has the capacity to drive the human mind to any end of the emotional spectrum. It can fuel our drive to work through adversity to achieve an even greater goal, or be the weight that keeps us from wanting to get out of bed in the morning. For Petersen, this anticipation led to what he believed would be an "awkward" return. Many wondered how the crowd in Boise would receive a man that left them in such an abrupt way after pinning the Broncos forever on the college football map. After many months of wondering, this was what that moment looked like:
Despite abandoning Bronco football for "greener" pastures, the standing ovation given by Bronco fans is tangible proof of how important the man was and is to the program. Nothing less than a standing ovation should have been given to a man who oversaw Boise State to a career record of 92-12, including two Fiesta Bowl victories.
The moment was bittersweet, but appropriate for both Petersen and the city of Boise as it seemed to bring a sense of closure. Once that moment was over, however, Petersen knew the cheers of appreciation would quickly turn to cheers of opposition for the first time.
Coming into this game the Broncos were a 12.5-point favorite courtesy of 17 returning starters and the blue turf under their feet.
The game would very much turn out to be a tale of two halves. The Broncos dominated nearly every aspect of the first half, running nearly as many plays (50) as the Huskies gained in total yards (58). The running back tandem of Jeremy McNichols and Stanford-transfer Kelsey Young proved lethal by going a combined 23 carries for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Ryan Finley did well managing the nerves in his first career start by finishing the first half at 11-for-17 for 79 yards and one interception. Managing his game like a point guard, Finley did just enough in the passing game while letting his running backs and defense do the damage.
The Broncos went into halftime leading 16-0, while giving many the impression that the Broncos were on the cusp of blowing the game open.
Then the second half came around.
Petersen adjusted his defense by throwing seven men in the box constantly, effectively removing the Bronco running game out of relevancy and forcing Finley to make plays in the passing game. The same Bronco offense that tallied up 254 yards of total offense in the first half only found 83 in the second. This lack of production saw the Broncos score no points for the rest of the game.
While the Husky defense did their job, their special teams play would put them right back into the game. With 1:55 left in the third quarter, Dante Pettis returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown, cutting the deficit to 16-10. Not too long after, Jaydon Mickens blocked a punt that resulted in a 28-yard field goal for the Huskies, making it a three-point game at 16-13.
After two more stops, the Husky defense put the ball back in true freshman quarterback Jake Browning's hands with a chance at a comeback victory in a hostile environment to begin his career. After methodically working his way down the field from their own 35-yard line, Browning found his offense on the Bronco 19-yard line, well within field goal range. Then one offensive holding call and a sack later, the Huskies were pushed back to the 29-yard line, setting up place kicker Cameron Van Winkle for a 46-yard field goal try to tie the game. As if time had frozen, Van Winkle saw his kick sail just wide right, sealing the victory for the Broncos and spoiling Petersen's return.
Despite a highly underwhelming second half on the part of the Broncos, they managed to do just enough to give their fans what they had hoped to see for months: defeating their former leader on the Blue. This game was about more than just one victory for many Bronco fans, it was a means of closure in seeing a man that had made so much joy possible in making football relevant to the city of Boise.
Petersen had nothing but good things to say about the game and the fans:
Chris Petersen: "Hats off to the Broncos ... These people (in Boise) are awesome ... A great college football environment."— Jay Tust (@KTVBSportsGuy) September 5, 2015
The Broncos may have some matters to work out in the passing game and special teams play. After all, they nearly spoiled a big lead at home because of it. At least for now though, the most important thing for the Broncos and their fans is the ability to finally move on from a game that held so much meaning both technically and emotionally, knowing that they are the victor.
The Broncos are now 1-0 to start a season that holds a lot of promise, as well as the potential for a lot of disappointment. Starting off such a season by sending their former leader home with a loss is a good way to begin. Many wonder if Coach Pete is waking up today thinking, "was leaving Boise the best decision I ever made?"