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Boise State football: Road Warriors, Part III (Utah, 1980)

When you talk about Boise State’s David vs. Goliath games, you have to start with the Broncos’ trip to Utah in 1980. It was a harbinger of the future.
Credit: Boise State University Archives
Boise State’s senior backfield known as the “Four Horsemen” in 1980: tailback Terry Zahner, quarterback Joe Aliotti, fullback David Hughes and tailback Cedric Minter.

BOISE, Idaho — Friday, September 18, 2020.

Friday brings my third installment of Road Warriors, chronicling the biggest road wins in Boise State history. Of all the landmark away-game moments in the 52-year history of the program, and there have been quite a few, this was the icebreaker. One of those nights when no one except the Broncos thought they had a prayer. The 1980 season opener was in Salt Lake City against WAC contender Utah, the highest-profile team Boise State had ever faced. But the Broncos had high expectations themselves after a 10-1 season, and they laid a shocking 28-7 beatdown on the Utes.

Three of Boise State’s scoring drives were 80 yards-plus, including a 96-yarder that bridged the first and second quarters. Terry Zahner rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns, and running mate Cedric Minter added 75 yards and two more scores. And Broncos fans traveled, with more than 3,000 of them ringing the bottom of Rice Stadium. It was 3½ months later that Boise State won the Division I-AA national championship.

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Saturday night’s Decade of Dominance retro broadcast on KBOI relives what was, in terms of before sunrise to after sunset, the biggest day in Boise State football history. It was in September of 2010, and ESPN College GameDay originated from the blue turf for the first time, drawing 13,250 fans at dawn. The line to enter then-Bronco Stadium snaked down Broadway, onto University Drive and all the way down to the Student Union Building before 6 a.m. Then a record crowd of 34,137 turned out for the main event, as the third-ranked Broncos beat 24th-ranked Oregon State 37-24 on ABC. The Oregonian’s Paul Buker, for one, was taken aback by the atmosphere. He wrote that it sounded like 60,000 in there.

RELATED: Boise State football: Big Ten–domino or not?

The game wasn’t as close as the score indicated, as Boise State outgained the Beavers 469 yards to 237. It was essentially the night Doug Martin became a first-round NFL Draft prospect. Martin outdueled the more celebrated Jacquizz Rodgers of OSU, rushing for 138 yards on 19 carries. He had a tackle-breaking doozy of a 55-yard run in the third quarter. Then there was Martin’s performance in the Broncos’ final possession, a seven-minute drive that saw him account for 61 of their 67 yards. Martin came out of the game as a marquee name.


No promises, especially on the “when” component, but Boise State athletic director Curt Apsey said he is optimistic there will be "some sort of season" for his football program. "I'm confident and more positive than I've ever been,” Apsey said Thursday during a virtual town hall meeting. “We've been through some tough times, but we're looking forward to tomorrow and the future." Can the university and the Mountain West come up with a COVID-19 testing system that works? “We’re developing new strategies all the time,” said Boise State president Dr. Marlene Tromp. Can plans be in place in time to start five weeks from Saturday? That’s the $20 million question.

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The Mountain West’s postponement of football until after the first of the year forced San Diego State’s hand, and earlier this week the Aztecs announced they would play the next two seasons (if there were to be two in 2021) at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, CA. That’s the stadium formerly known as StubHub Center, where the Chargers played the past three seasons after abandoning San Diego. It’s 111 miles from the SDSU campus. That would be like Boise State playing in Jerome. The timeline for the construction of San Diego State’s new $310 million facility has the current SDCCU Stadium being torn down in the first quarter of 2021. Now, if the Mountain West revives fall football, will the Aztecs squeeze in one more season at the stadium formerly known as Qualcomm after all?


George Iloka and Billy Winn both played in that game for Boise State, and they both kept their NFL careers alive this week. Iloka has been signed to Minnesota’s practice squad, and Winn has done the same thing with Green Bay. It was with the Vikings that Iloka last played an NFL snap in 2018. 

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Winn was on Denver’s injured reserve list all last season. They’re up there in years for guys on a practice squad—Iloka is 30, and Winn is 31. But the Vikings and Packers will certainly benefit from their veteran smarts and savvy in drills and game prep. Meanwhile, rookie David Moa is a more traditional signee to a practice squad spot. Moa, who was cut at the end of training camp by the Vikings, has been picked up by the Atlanta Falcons.


On a normal PGA Tour weekend, shooting two-over in the first round would put you behind the eight-ball. But this is the U.S. Open, and Winged Foot played tough on Thursday. Troy Merritt came in with a two-over 72 but has a shot at makng the cut in his second career Open after a day the saw only 21 golfers break par. Were it not for a double-bogey on No. 17, Merritt would be tied for 21st instead of 57th.

RELATED: Boise State football: Road Warriors, Part II

THIS DAY IN SPORTS…September 18, 2015, five years ago today:

For the first time ever, three Boise State quarterbacks make their collegiate football debuts in the same game. After starter Ryan Finley was injured in the first quarter of a 52-0 victory over Idaho State, Thomas Stuart, Brett Rypien and Alex Ogle followed him. Rypien, the four-star recruit from Spokane, was the most celebrated of the bunch. Rypien completed the first four passes of his Bronco career and went 8-of-9 for 126 yards. He led touchdown drives on each of his first three possessions, and Boise State got a field goal on the fourth. Finley would transfer to North Carolina State seven months later.

(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.) 

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