No. 23 Fresno State entered Friday night’s game against Boise State with one mission: secure the Milk Can and win on the blue turf for the first time ever.
The Bulldogs, poised to be one of the few teams that could secure the Group of Five bid if they win out, could do no such thing in the end after allowing the Broncos to rally in the second half and cap off a thrilling 24-17 victory in the pair’s rematch of last season’s Mountain West Championship Game.
Quarterback Brett Rypien was not surprisingly at the center of all the action for the home team, converting several key third downs with both his arm and his legs on his way to throwing for an efficient 269 yards, one touchdown and an interception. While he was pretty much unstoppable for most of the night outside of that ill-advised pick, it took until the second half before his team could start converting many of their long drives into points. After the switch was flipped down by two scores early in the third quarter though, it was all Broncos the rest of the way as they ran off three consecutive scoring drives to take the lead and blocked a late field goal for good measure too.
Rypien wasn’t the only BSU playmaker that was tough to stop in the game however, as tailback Alexander Mattison picked up 144 yards and two scores on the ground as the workhorse between the tackles. He had just one long run of 14 yards but it seemed like just about every other carry went for four or five yards as he kept churning along and helped the Broncos offense record 24 first downs.
Fresno State was no slouch on the offensive end either even if they did just come up a bit short and missed two field goal attempts on the night. Signal-caller Marcus McMaryion wound up throwing for 283 yards and a touchdown, finding favorite target KeeSean Johnson for eight catches, 95 yards and that short toss into the end zone. It was a good thing that the combo was productive because running the ball was far from a sure thing in the game with Jordan Mims recording only 47 yards rushing and Ronnie Rivers adding another 33 and a touchdown.
The victory was a triple-whammy for the visiting Bulldogs, which last won in Boise back in 1984 — when the turf was far from blue. Not only were they unable to secure a bit of revenge for last year’s MWC title game loss to their Milk Can rivals, but the loss will potentially knock them out of the running for a potential Group of Five bid as well after sitting in the College Football Playoff Selection Committee’s rankings the past two weeks. Worse, if they wind up winning their division once again (which they can do at home against San Diego State next weekend) and have to play potential Mountain division champs Boise State, the tie-breaker would then put the game back on the blue turf in Idaho instead of in Fresno.
The flip side is that second half rally will help keep the Broncos afloat in their own tight division race with a ranked Utah State squad. They will host the Aggies at the end of the season in two weeks and may have done just enough to get the attention of the committee themselves for that elusive Group of Five bid if they run the table the rest of the way. It’s been a bit of an up-and-down campaign for Bryan Harsin’s team but they showed plenty of toughness on both sides of the ball on Friday night to cap off a great comeback and put their destiny back in their hands once again.