Saturday evening, from the start, it looked like the Boise State Broncos were going to turn to the ground game in an effort to lock up a victory.
Junior running back Alexander Mattison accepted — and completed — that challenge.
Behind the legs of Mattison, the arm of quarterback Brett Rypien, and a gutsy performance of a depleted defense, the Broncos defeated the Utah State Aggies 33-24 on Saturday night.
The win was the seventh-straight for Boise State and they will host the Mountain West Conference Championship Game against the Fresno State Bulldogs for the second consecutive year.
Mattison had an MVP-like performance. He reached the 200-yard mark on his final carry of the night, a one-yard touchdown run with four seconds left to seal the victory.
This score was the third touchdown of the night for Mattison, who carried the ball 37 times. He powered and hurdled his way over defenders all night. Mattison went over the 100-yard mark for the fourth time in the last five games, totaling 714 yards on the ground in that span.
Rypien was on point most of the night as well. The senior crossed the 300-yard mark for the 21st time in his career, throwing for 310 yards and one touchdown. He completed 23-32 and did not turn the ball over.
And the defense, minus top tacklers Kekoa Nawahine, Riley Whimpey, and DeAndre Pierce, plus key players like Chase Hatada and David Moa, held Utah State 25 points below their average. The Broncos also limited the Aggies to 62 yards on the ground, 154 below their average, and allowed Utah State to only convert 4-13 on third downs.
Utah State marched down the field on their opening series. A 75-yard drive was capped off with a Jordan Love nine-yard touchdown pass to former Bronco commit Jalen Green.
A penalty on the offensive line (a theme for Boise State in the first half) and a dropped pass by a wide-open John Bates led to the offense’s quick exit on their first drive.
The teams exchanged punts. The start of the third drive by Utah State ended with the exact jolt Boise State needed.
Kekaula Kaniho picked off Love — only Love’s fifth interception of the season — to set the Broncos up with great field position. A drive with a key grab by Akilian Butler and strong runs by Mattison led to the running back’s first score of the game, a 2-yard run to tie things up at 7.
Love, after starting the game six of seven, completed only two of his next seven passes. Tyler Horton and Evan Tyler made a couple of pass breakups while Curtis Weaver and Jabril Frazier provided pressure.
A Haden Hoggarth 23-yard field goal gave the Broncos at 10-7 early in the second quarter.
On their next series, Boise State overcame two 15-yard penalties to take a 17-7 lead. On the drive, Rypien found Bates for 30 yards and senior A.J. Richardson for 17. The drive was capped off with a 1-yard Mattison run.
Love and the Aggies got things going again. A nine-play, 75-yard drive ended with a Love to Ron’ quavion Tarver 12-yard touchdown reception.
Hoggarth — thanks in part to a bad snap — later missed a 33-yard field goal attempt and the Broncos led at halftime, 17-14.
The defenses took over in the third quarter. Boise State continued to move the ball, but failed to capitalize outside of a Hoggarth 27-yard field goal. This put the Broncos up 20-14 with just over seven minutes left in the third.
Rypien found Richardson for a 44-yard gain. And a Sean Modster reception that would have given the Broncos at least a first and goal was overturned because Modster had stepped out of bounds and was the first person to touch the ball.
Utah State’s Dominik Eberle has came up just short on a 50-yard field goal attempt in the third.
Eberle would hit a 45-yard attempt as the fourth quarter started to pull the Aggies within three.
Boise State promptly responded with a 14-play, 75-yard drive that saw Utah State’s Tipa Galeai ejected from the game for a targeting hit on Rypien. Rypien later threw his only touchdown of the night, a one-yard toss to Garrett Collingham.
The Aggies kept things interesting. On a 2nd and 25, Gerald Bright took a screen pass from Love and rumbled 83 yards for the touchdown. This pulled the Aggies within two at 26-24 with 3:12 remaining.
Then Mattison took over, busting off a 59-yard run to set up the Broncos with first and goal. And eventual victory.
CT Thomas led the Broncos with six catches for 89 yards. Modster had 5 for 81 and Richardson finished with 4 for 77. Mattison also had three catches for 12 yards.
Love finished with 363 yards passing for the Aggies. He completed 29-47 passes and three touchdowns to go along with the pick.