BOISE, Idaho — Thursday, September 5, 2019.
Apologies if you weren’t around 25 years ago—just consider this Boise State-Marshall 101 as we prep for Friday night’s matchup on the blue turf. The only time these teams previously met ended up being one of the most memorable games in Bronco history. It was in the semifinals of the 1994 Division I-AA Playoffs, and the Thundering Herd was a power in what we now call the FCS. The Herd was bigger and faster than Boise State (where have we heard that before?). Coach Pokey Allen wanted a big crowd, which had been a challenge the previous two games in the playoffs with Bronco Stadium having to be sold from scratch. So he and I taped a TV spot early in the week, and Pokey famously said, “If we get 20,000 fans for the Marshall game, I’ll ride a horse down Broadway.” Attendance was a loud 20,068. And Pokey followed through.
Of course, the celebrated ride would have been hollow without a Boise State victory. That’s the rest of the story. Trailing 24-7, and with starting quarterback Tony Hilde knocked out of the game, seldom used backup Mark Paljetak came on to throw a touchdown pass to Lee Schrack with 55 seconds left in the first half to give the Broncos hope. Boise State shut out the Thundering Herd in the second half while whittling away at the deficit. Hilde re-entered the game and threw the winning TD to Schrack with just under eight minutes left in the contest. The Broncos defense grittily held on from there, and Boise State advanced to the national championship game the following week against Youngstown State—on Marshall’s home field, no less.
PAUL REYNA’S POWERFUL SHADOW
There’s another sidebar to Friday night’s contest. It was 20 years ago that Boise State freshman defensive tackle Paul Reyna died after hitting his head on the turf in a fall camp scrimmage. I’ll never forget coach Dirk Koetter bawling during a press conference announcing Reyna’s passing. Reyna’s devastated mother, Carolyn Gusman, spoke to the team and said, “Be not afraid, go out and win championships.” That quote sits below a photo of Reyna that is the last thing today’s Broncos see when they head out to the field. If you consider Boise State’s “Golden Era” to be intact, well, it began in 1999. Carolyn Gusman and Paul’s three siblings will be on the field as honorary captains for the coin toss Friday night.
Coach Bryan Harsin will tell you that Reyna and his mom had an impact. “Every day. Every single day,” said Harsin when asked how often he thinks of that moment. “Whatever happened from that point as far as Boise State—it’s something you don’t forget.” Harsin was a senior backup quarterback for the Broncos in 1999. Reyna’s memory was honored on the scoreboard screen at the Rose Bowl before the kickoff of the season opener versus UCLA. It was in that game that Harsin threw his only career touchdown pass. “Carolyn and his siblings being back here—that’s going to be emotional for us who were a part of it,” Harsin said.
TIMEOUT FOR SPECIAL TEAMS
Everybody’s knows what Boise State’s scariest unit was going into this season. Special teams, anyone? Well, that group sailed through the Florida State game with only a couple hiccups. Yes, Joel Velazquez shanked a 10-yard punt in the third quarter when the Broncos had been moving the ball. His other three punts averaged 48.7 yards, though. There was the issue of two players wearing No. 7 on the field at the same time (Akilian Butler and Zeke Noa). “That was just stupid,” said Harsin. But you had Eric Sachse’s five field goals. Now the Bronco coverage teams will get a test. Starting wide receiver Talik Keaton is also the Marshall’s punt returner, and he topped the century mark in the rout of VMI—five returns for 109 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown.
FUTURE BACHMEIER RIVALS?
Boise State doesn’t play Nevada and Fresno State again until 2021. When the Broncos see the Wolf Pack, they may be pitting Hank Bachmeier against one of the quarterbacks he beat out, Kaiden Bennett, who transferred to the Pack after fall camp. When Boise State visits the Bulldogs that year, they may take on former Washington quarterback Jake Haener. The big news in Fresno Wednesday was the transfer of Haener to the ‘Dogs after he was a runnerup to Jacob Eason in the Huskies’ quarterback battle. Haener will redshirt this season; then he’ll have two years of eligibility remaining.
CHARLES IN CHARGE
You can safely say former Boise State star Charles Leno Jr. has become an elite NFL left tackle with the Chicago Bears. Leno, coming off his first Pro Bowl, has played in every game of the past four seasons and has become the key protector of Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky, and that will be his task tonight as the 2019 NFL season opens with the Bears and Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field on NBC. Leno took one for the team a couple weeks ago (although it didn’t hurt him at all). The Bears restructured the four-year, $38 million contract Leno signed in 2017, converting $7 million of his salary into a signing bonus. That freed up $5.6 mill in cap space for Chicago.
NO MORE WAIT FOR IDAHO STATE
Idaho State finally kicks off its season tonight in Holt Arena against Western Colorado. Coach Rob Phenicie, going into his third year at ISU, has co-starters on his depth chart at quarterback: sophomore Gunnar Amos, the former Coeur d’Alene standout who transferred from Idaho, and junior college transfer Matt Struck. Prospects are good tonight for either one of them. Western Colorado, formerly Western State, is a Division II school that was 2-9 last year and is picked to finish 10th this season in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
This Day In Sports…September 5, 1994, 25 years ago today:
During what ends up as their final season in Los Angeles, the visiting Raiders get steamrolled 44-14 by the 49ers at Candlestick Park. In that game, Jerry Rice scored three touchdowns to pass Jim Brown as the NFL career leader in TD’s. Rice, the greatest wide receiver of all-time, would play eight more seasons—3½ of them, ironically, would be with the Raiders. He ended up with 207 touchdowns in his 20-year career.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)