BOISE, Idaho- For awhile, it looked like the 28-point underdog Colorado State Rams were going to do much more than cover the spread against the No.15 Boise State Broncos on Saturday night.
Then it looked like electric running back Jeremy McNichols and the high-powered Bronco offense was going to blow the Rams out of Albertson’s stadium. Then, after falling behind 28-3 in the fourth quarter, the Rams scored three touchdowns within 1:25 bringing the game to a five point deficit with 3:36 left in the game to make things really interesting in Boise.
After recovering back-to-back Hayden Hunt onside kicks deep in the fourth quarter, the comeback magic ran out on Hunt’s third attempt, as the Broncos recovered and ran out the clock to walk away with a 28-23 win.
Coming out of halftime, the Broncos held a 7-3 lead after a sloppy first half from both teams. After CSU punted on their opening drive of the half, the McNichols wore down the Rams defense until quarterback Brett Rypien hit wide receiver Chaz Anderson, who made a diving catch down the CSU sideline, for a 35-yard gain to the CSU five. McNichols punched it in one play later, giving the Broncos a 14-3 lead right out of half.
On Boise State’s next drive, McNichols burst through the line and finished the play 80-yards later in the end zone.
McNichols went over the 200-yard mark in the fourth quarter, and finished with 217-yards on 39 carries to go with the two touchdowns, along with four catches for 47-yards.
The do-everything back did more than enough to carry the Broncos to victory on a night where Rypien and the Broncos passing game looked out of sync.
The essential dagger came in the form of wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck, who threw for an 11-yard touchdown, his second of the year, to receiver A.J Johnson to put the Broncos up 28-3 with 10:36 left in the fourth.
The CSU defense locked down the Bronco offense for most of the first half, but wore down in the second half after getting little help from a CSU offense that only managed seven points after the opening drive field goal.
At one point, the Rams punted on seven straight possessions after that field goal, and struggled to get anything going offensively until an Izzy Matthews two-yard touchdown run capped off a 17-play 75-yard drive with five minutes left in the game.
CSU made things more exciting when defensive back Kevin Nutt recovered a Hayden Hunt onside kick, and quarterback Nick Stevens hit receiver Michael Gallup on the next play for a 53-yard touchdown bringing the score to 24-17.
After recovering another onside kick from Hunt, Stevens found Dawkins for a 11-yard touchdown with 3:36 left in the game. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful, and the score would hold at 28-23.
Outside of the final two scoring drives, Stevens was largely ineffective through the air, as he struggled to find receivers downfield. For the game, Stevens was 17-31 passing for 184-yards.
On Boise’s first drive of the game, the CSU defense dodged a bullet when linebacker Tre’ Thomas was left covering Sperbeck, but an open Sperbeck was unable to haul in a deep ball from Rypien. The opening fireworks from Boise State’s high powered offense were avoided, and the game settled into a defensive affair in which that potent Bronco offense looked off for much of the half.
The Rams scored on their own opening drive as Wyatt Bryan hit a 39-yard field goal to give CSU the 3-0 lead. It was the first time the Broncos trailed all season.
The Rams won the battle on both sides of the line of scrimmage in the first half, as CSU ran for 106 yards in the first, while holding McNichols and the Boise running game to only 52 yards on the ground. Running back Dalyn Dawkins found running room early and often, as the Junior ran for 62-yards on 12 carries in the first half.
The game changer came as the Broncos faced a third-and-four from their own 48-yard-line as the first half was winding to a close. Linebacker Evan Colorito was left covering McNichols all on his own on the outside, and Rypien immediately exploited the mismatch, hitting McNichols for 33-yards down the CSU sideline. The Broncos would score two plays later when Rypien hit Sperbeck for a 12-yard touchdown.
For the most part the CSU defense held firm in the first half, as the Broncos picked up 75 of their 171 total first half yards on their lone scoring drive.
The game finished out with a wild order of events. After back-to-back Hayden Hunt onside kicks recovered by the Rams, CSU got the ball back down 28-23 with under 30 seconds to play and 70 yards to win. The comeback was cut short, however, as the game was ruled over after a CSU hook-and-ladder play was flagged for an illegal forward pass.
Collegian sports reporter Eric Wolf can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Eric_Wolf5