It was not a happy ending in Colorado State’s 28-23 loss on Saturday night, but when the weapon Hayden Hunt took the game in his own hands, CSU (3-4, 1-2 Mountain West) almost walked out of Boise, Idaho with the most improbable of wins.
Trailing 28-3 with 10:36 left in the game, the Rams should have never had a chance, but that’s not how it was going to end.
As the Boise State (6-0, 3-0 MW) faithful headed home, quarterback Nick Stevens led the Rams on a 17-play 75-yard drive, capped off by an Izzy Matthews two-yard touchdown run.
“Once you get a really good drive going that’s kind of what sparked it,” Matthews said of the offense gaining momentum. “In that fourth quarter we had that long drive where we actually drove down the field and then two big plays that ended up resulting in scores. It really just takes that spark initially.”
The spark came in the touchdown drive, the life came when defensive back Kevin Nutt recovered a Hayden Hunt onside kick and one play later Stevens hit Michael Gallup for a 53-yard touchdown to move the score to 28-17.
The improbable became the impossible when running back Dalyn Dawkins fell on Hunt’s next onside kick and the Rams scored six plays later in a drive that was again carried mostly by Gallup, who had a 31-yard catch and run to set the Rams up on the Bronco 11-yard line.
“They are not two-for-two or two-for-three in that situation,” Hunt said about the possibility of recovering those kicks when they practice them. “That just doesn’t happen let’s be completely honest, I’ve worked my butt off on that for two years and that just doesn’t happen, and it did.”
But the ending would not be fairy tale. Receiver Olabisi Johnson dropped an easy catch on the CSU’s two-point conversion attempt that could have made it a three point game. Down by five, coach Mike Bobo decided to again go for the onside kick, and this time CSU was not successful.
The Broncos worked all but 15-seconds off of the clock on their next drive, and facing desperation, the Rams went into lateral mode, the last of which was ruled a controversial illegal forward pass, and the ensuing 10-second runoff ended any chance of CSU pulling off the upset.
“Unfortunate how the game ended right there,” Bobo said of the final play. “I couldn’t tell what happened over there but they ruled it a forward pass.”
Bobo was unwilling to share much about what he thought about that play, or another controversial officiating moment on the Broncos’ last drive when it looked like more time ran off of the clock when it should have, but there’s no doubt that the coach can take something from the way they finished that game, even if that’s not the ending they were planning for.
“It was not the fourth quarter game that we envisioned but we put ourselves back in a position to get a stop right there and have a chance to win the ballgame,” Bobo said.
He wanted his team to have a chance heading into the final moments, he just never thought that chance was going to come like that.
And after their 3-0 lead to start the game, and their 7-3 deficit at halftime, it was certainly a CSU team that had plenty of belief throughout the night after they walked into the game 28-point underdogs.
“Everyone thought that it was meant to be and there’s nothing that can stop us,” Hunt said. “We had that mentality in the first half and I think it faltered a little in the second half, and it sparked back up in those last six minutes when we were done 28-3.”
Hunt only added to his versatility with his onside kick performance Saturday night. The senior punter is now two-for-two and two-for-three on the season. Two-for-two on fake punt conversions, and two-for-three with the onside kicks. He also downed four of his seven punts inside the Boise State 20-yard line.
Stevens walking away confident
In his first start since week one against the University of Colorado, Nick Stevens was not perfect, and he often struggled to move the ball down the field, but after the comeback bid, he can take away something from this game.
“I definitely think that I gained some important confidence there at the end,’ Stevens said. “I got in a rhythm we were throwing the ball a lot more so it was a lot easier to get in the rhythm. There are definitely some good things to (look) forward too.”
Stevens finished the game 17-31 for 184-yards and two touchdowns, much of that coming in the final 10 minutes or so as the Rams trailed by 25. But after his week one performance, Saturday night was certainly better.
“I thought he played a really good fourth quarter and I hope that will give him confidence going into next week,” Bobo said.
Gallup continues to progress
Wide receiver Michael Gallup came back from an early third-down drop to have another big day for the Rams. The junior juco transfer finished with 91 yards receiving on four catches to go along with his late-game touchdown.
“He is that guy,” Matthews said of Gallup. “He’s a physical, dominant receiver. He is definitely evolving into a very very good CSU Ram very quickly.”
Bobo has said in previous weeks that Gallup was still not as far along as he could be in the offense and that it would still take time for the receiver to be as good as he can be, but Gallup is continuing to be the standout playmaker for this CSU offense.
“I have to do a better job of getting him the football and designing some things to get him the football,” Bobo said. “You saw what he can do when he gets the ball in his hand, he has a chance to score every time. He is a difference maker so we have to find a way to get him the football.”
Defense showing promise
Bouncing off their second half shutout of Utah State last week, the CSU defense continued to roll with that momentum in the first half of Saturday’s game.
The defense held the Mountain West’s number one offense to only seven first half points, and kept quarterback Brett Rypien and his potent passing game from looking in sync for much for the night.
In the end the defense wore down, and it certainly did not help that the offense was not able to stay on the field for long, but it is a CSU defense that is continuing to gain confidence. Now they just have to put a whole game together.
“There’s a lot more energy.” linebacker Kevin Davis said. “Guys are excited, guys are believing. I think that’s the biggest difference from the beginning of the season. Guys are believing we can win games (and) win games on defense.
Collegian sports reporter Eric Wolf can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Eric_Wolf5