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One Word: Champions

Bulldogs break curse, win Mountain West title

Mountain West Championship - Fresno State v Boise State Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

0-10. Zero and ten. That was the Fresno State record against Boise State on the blue turf going into last night’s game. The only time Fresno State had ever beaten the Broncos in Boise was back when they were an FCS school in 1984. There had been multiple close calls over the years, but the Broncos had always been victorious. Until last night. Fresno State finally broke the curse, and won their first Mountain West title under Jeff Tedford, 19-16 in OT. Now the 11 win Bulldogs will take their show on the road to face Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl December 15th.

The game started out quickly for both teams. In a driving rain, both offenses looked like what we expected out of them. A controversial fumble in the red zone set up a Marcus McMaryion pass to Michiah Quick to put the Dogs up 7-0. Not to rest, the Broncos immediately answered back with a 75 yard drive to knot things up at 7-7 in the first quarter on one of the craziest touchdown receptions you’re likely to see. The pass almost got intercepted by Jaron Bryant, but it slid through his hands to Sean Modster, who somehow got a toe down in the back of the endzone for the score. This looked like another fantastic game from both teams, and it would definitely become that. Then the snow started falling. What was just a cold rain began to be snow, and the blue turf of Boise began fading more and more. Stadium personnel had to come out during each timeout and commercial break with brooms to clean off yard lines and hashes so we could actually see the field, but the snow kept falling through the first half.

For all of his problems this season on field goals, Asa Fuller found his key: driving snow. After going about 60% on field goals all year, the redshirt freshman absolutely nailed both of his kicks in this game, including a clutch 44 yard kick before the end of the half that most of us couldn’t even see through the driving snow. That 10-7 score would hold at the half, as neither offense could get going in the weather, not that anyone could blame them. Two strong defenses, plus snow, equaled pretty much no offense in the first half. The weather and questions about the ability to kick even forced a couple of fourth down tries, which I’m not sure anyone can really blame Harsin for. Probably a higher percentage to try to run it than to kick it.

The Bulldogs got to start the second half with the ball, and used the drive to get down into Boise territory using Marcus’ legs on a 31yd run, and finally getting Keesean Johnson his first reception of the game. This puts Keesean at 49 consecutive games with a reception, 1 game short of the record. Asa Fuller would again come up clutch for the Dogs, putting the lead to 13-7. Those field goals would end up being incredibly important down the stretch, as the snow continued falling in the 3rd quarter of the game.

Boise would take their first drive of the half straight down the field, riding the legs of Alexander Mattison to finally find a rhythm. Their drive would stall out in Bulldog territory, and they decided to try a field goal to get some points on the board. In what would become incredibly important, Matt Boateng was able to get around the edge on the try and force a miss by Haden Hoggarth. Matt Boateng on special teams would end up being the difference maker in this game, but I’m getting ahead of myself. There was about a dozen punts by both teams in the 3rd and 4th quarter before either team would have to worry about the end zone. The snow started to slow down, and even stopped going into the 4th quarter, but neither offense could get going, showing how good both defenses were playing.

After punting pretty much the entire 3rd and 4th quarter, Alexander Mattison finally started to grind down the defense, and find running lanes. He found pay dirt on a 34 yard run into the endzone, and every single Fresno State fan started feeling that eternal sense of dread against Boise. Have a lead, but watch the Broncos come back and crush their dreams time, and time, and time, and time, again. But this Bulldog team was not going to let this chance slip through their fingers again. They knew the pain of losing last year in the title game, and a month ago on the blue. And it was Matt Boateng’s time to shine again. For some crazy reason, the Boise special teams left him unblocked on the PAT, and he burst around the edge to block the Hoggarth attempt to keep everything knotted at 13. That block would be the biggest moment in the entire game, since the game would stay tied to the end of regulation.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the treatment of Alexander Mattison in the last five minutes of the game. After taking a pair of hellacious hits from Jeff Allison, Mattison was clearly shaken up and dazed. The training staff took him off the field, but they wouldn’t take his helmet away, and kept letting him go back out there. I get that this is a championship game, and he was the Boise offense, but think of the guy’s health. If he did have a concussion, how could you let him keep going back out there? Take his helmet, sit him down, protect the kid. No idea what Harsin was doing, but the training staff was trying their best to keep Mattison off the field, to pretty much no avail. I know how much they needed him, especially with the injuries behind him, but brains are nothing to mess around with. Hopefully there is no concussion, and everything is okay, but it wasn’t a good look for the Boise coaching staff.

Both teams seemed content to take this fantastic game to OT, and Fresno won the 2nd coin toss of the game. Boise drove down to the 5 yard line, but the Bulldog defense would get one more monster stop to force a field goal. Now down 16-13, the Bulldogs knew that a touchdown would win it, and field goal would push a second OT. Luckily, we’d only need the one. A brilliant 3rd down pass to Jared Rice in the seam rumbled the Dogs down to the 9, and Ronnie Rivers would drive them down to the 1 on the next play. From there, they knew this would be 4 down territory, and this was going onto the offense’s shoulders to win or lose this one. Two rushing attempts that just managed to keep things at the 1, and 3rd and goal became the magic moment. After avoiding the option game the whole time, Marcus would take the snap, pitch the ball to Ronnie Rivers, and he burst to the corner to finally end this monumental slugfest. The Fresno State sideline emptied, and the celebration was on. After thinking it would never happen, Fresno State won against Boise on the blue turf, and they were Mountain West champions. It’s better just to watch the play happen, so here you go.

Final score, Fresno State 19-16 Boise State, in OT. The confetti falls, the trophies are lifted, the Bulldogs are champions. Mykal Walker was deservedly the defensive MVP, Alexander Mattison was deservedly offensive MVP. Now the Dogs are off to Las Vegas to face the 7-5 Arizona State Sun Devils for the first time since 1941. Boise State is off to the First Responder Bowl against Boston College, their first meeting since 2005.

LET THIS BE A LESSON: NO ONE BEATS FRESNO STATE ON THE BLUE TURF 11 TIMES IN A ROW!

Mountain West Championship - Fresno State v Boise State Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

I also want to thank the staff here at Mountain West Connection for giving me the opportunity to cover Fresno State sports over the last year. I’ve learned a lot about sports writing, and met some great people the cover this conference. Now we’ve got bowl games, then full turn to basketball season. Thanks to everybody that’s read my articles and left feedback.