Monday, December 3, 2012.
The Nevada rivalry ends with a hard-fought Boise State victory, the same way it started back in 1971. That first meeting was also in Mackay Stadium in Reno, a 17-10 Bronco win. There were only 5,800 fans in attendance—Boise State and the Wolf Pack were classified “college division” schools by the NCAA and toiled in relative Western anonymity. It was anything but Saturday, as the Western half of the country received the ABC network telecast, and Boise State and Nevada went at it in front of a crowd of 30,000-plus with a share of the Mountain West championship on the line for the Broncos. BSU got the title it so desperately wanted in a 27-21 triumph. The series ends for now with the Broncos having won 11 of the last 12 meetings with the Pack.
The MAACO Bowl Las Vegas was seen almost as a consolation prize for Boise State in 2010 and 2011 after near-misses in the BCS bowl sweepstakes. This year, it has to be seen as a reward for a team that some predicted would fall apart without the stellar senior class that departed after last season. The Broncos had to earn their way to Vegas, and they are the recipients of a good matchup against Washington, next year’s season-opening opponent, on December 22. The obvious sidebar to this game is Huskies defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox scheming up his old friends on the Boise State offense (there’ll be plenty of time coming up to talk about that). Incidentally, this will be Boise State’s 30th postseason game, including Division I-AA and Division II Playoff matchups and the 1971 Camellia Bowl.
D.J. Harper needed 65 yards Saturday for his long-awaited 1,000-yard season, and he gained exactly twice that many. Harper’s 130-yard day kept Nevada at bay, especially when he started getting the ball again in the second half to chew some clock. And he effectively sealed the victory with his onside kick recovery. What’s remarkable about Harper is what a gamer he is. He endured those two season-ending knee injuries and has climbed to eighth in Boise State’s career rushing list with 2,707 yards. Better yet, he is fourth in career rushing touchdowns with 39, behind only Ian Johnson, Brock Forsey and Doug Martin. I caught a bit of ESPN Classic’s replay of the Broncos’ 69-67 quadruple-overtime win over Nevada in 2007. And jumping right out at me was a little six-yard pass from Taylor Tharp to No. 34. D.J. Harper, of course.
Did the Boise State defense get gassed a little bit in the second half? There was good news/bad news in Joe Southwick’s 52-yard touchdown pass to Matt Miller in the third quarter. It was a perfectly-executed play, as Shane Williams-Rhodes took a couple steps back and squared up for a wide receiver screen while Miller zipped downfield. But it was a one-play drive, and it put the Bronco defense right back on the field at a time when the Nevada offense was cranking up. The Wolf Pack had the ball for 16 of the first 17 plays after halftime. That the defense had enough left in the tank to hold off the Pack was helped greatly by the Boise State offense, especially with the fourth quarter drive that took 4:55 off the clock and resulted in Michael Frisina’s 30-yard field goal.
Let’s talk turnovers for a moment. There was only one in Saturday’s game, but it was the second-biggest of the season for Boise State next to Michael Atkinson’s 36-yard interception return that won the BYU game in September. Blake Renaud’s strip of Nevada tight end Zach Sudfeld at the one-yard line and the ensuing fumble recovery in the end zone by J.C. Percy was as big as they come in a rivalry game. On the other side of the ball, taking care of the pigskin has been a hallmark of this Bronco team. It has not had a turnover the past three games, and it hasn’t coughed up a fumble in the past five. There were two fumbles lost versus Colorado State, but one came on a Bronco interception and the other on a punt return.
It looked like Utah State was set to face Kent State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl—until Northern Illinois got bumped up to the BCS and the Orange Bowl last night. That put Kent State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl and Toledo in Boise. Nothing wrong with the Rockets. They spent a week in the Top 25 this fall before falling to Ball State and BCS-buster Northern Illinois, each time by a touchdown. The Aggies will be energized by the news that fourth-year coach Gary Andersen is staying put. Andersen had been a hot commodity, talking to Cal, Colorado and Kentucky after leading USU to its first 10-win season ever and first outright conference championship since 1936.
This could be the right guy at the right time for Idaho. Paul Petrino is expected to be named the Vandals’ new head coach today, and he has his work cut out for him with a team that has lost 21 of its last 24 games—and one without a conference. But coming from an SEC offensive coordinator’s post at Arkansas, it would seem unlikely Petrino would be eager to take this job if he thought it was a foregone conclusion that Idaho football was headed back to the Big Sky. Petrino, Bobby’s brother, has the Vandals on his resume—he coached in Moscow from 1992-94 under John L. Smith, the same coach he worked for this season with the Razorbacks.
It’s looking like there’s something brewing with Boise State hoops. The Broncos had no letdown after the upset of No. 11 Creighton last week, winning again yesterday by blasting Seattle University 87-64 at Key Arena. The Redhawks, coming off an 11-point loss at Stanford, saw a 10-game home winning streak ended. It was Anthony Drmic’s turn to light up the nets, scoring 25 points. Drmic canned five of Boise State’s 15 three-pointers—the team total was one short of the school record. In his first appearance since the 35-point explosion at Creighton, Derrick Marks was “held” to 14 points, but he was a menace on defense with six steals. Freshman Mikey Thompson added 19 points for the Broncos, who play at Utah Wednesday.
The Idaho Stampede remain winless four games into the season after being swept at Austin over the weekend. The first thing that jumps out is shooting—the Stampede just can’t make baskets. Only once have they hit over 40 percent in a game. The Stamps shot 39 percent yesterday in a 97-82 loss to the Toros and 35 percent in Saturday night’s 99-81 defeat. The Stampede’s home opener is this Friday night against those same defending D-League champion Austin Toros.
The Colorado Eagles came into their three-game series with the Idaho Steelheads as the highest-scoring team in the ECHL. The Steelheads were second, but they chipped away with 4-3 and 4-2 victories last Wednesday and Friday. Going into Saturday night’s game, Idaho trailed Colorado by five goals for the ECHL scoring lead, and what do the Steelies do? They outscore the Eagles by six in a 7-1 beatdown. So the Steelheads are now tops in the league in goals. Saturday’s outing may have been goalie Tyler Beskorowany’s best game of the season considering the opposition. Beskorowany stopped 30 of 31 Colorado shots to earn his fifth win of the season. Special teams were also superior for the Steelheads, as what had been the ECHL’s top power play for Colorado was denied on 15 of 16 opportunities in the three-game sweep.
Finally, our thoughts and prayers go out to the Father of Bronco Football, Lyle Smith, upon the death of his wife Eleanor yesterday. Eleanor Smith was a kind lady and a perfect partner for Lyle. She often joined him at Boise State functions, and she will be dearly missed.
This Day In Sports…December 3, 1994:
In a driving rainstorm at Bronco Stadium, Boise State outlasts Appalachian State and future Dallas Cowboys linebacker Dexter Coakley, 17-14, in the second round of the Division I-AA playoffs. Two Tony Hilde-to-Ryan Ikebe touchdown passes and a Greg Erickson field goal got it done offensively, and the defense did the rest for the Broncos, who notched their 12th win of the season on their way to the Division I-AA national championship game.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)