For the first time in their short tenure in the Mountain West, the Bronco football team won their first outright conference title after defeating the Fresno State Bulldogs 28-14 at Albertson’s Stadium Saturday night.
Senior Grant Hedrick took over the game early and showed the poise an experience quarterback should have in such a high-profile game. Hedrick ran for 81 yards and 2 scores, leading the Broncos to their first conference championship since they split the title with Fresno State and San Diego State in 2012.
Hedrick started off the game strong on the Broncos first possession, hitting Chaz Anderson with a 46-yard pass to set himself up for a 20-yard touchdown run.
Boise State’s secondary came ready to play against Fresno State quarterback Brian Burrell. After Hedrick’s touchdown run, cornerback Donte Deayon intercepted Burrell in the end zone. On the Bulldogs’ next possession, linebacker Tanner Vallejo intercepted Burrell and returned it 63-yards for a touchdown, putting the Broncos up 14-0 in the first quarter.
After nose tackle Armand Nance blocked a Fresno State field goal, the Broncos powered down the field to set up running back Jay Ajayi’s only score of the night. Ajayi powered through a tough 9-yards for the score to extend the lead to 21.
With the opening possession of the second half, the Broncos scored in true Bronco fashion: hard and fast. Hedrick ran it in from 21-yards out after hitting Jeremy McNichols on a deep pass in which he found himself wide open.
The Broncos found themselves up 28-0 early in the third, and would have to hang on the rest of the game to secure the victory.
The Fresno State front seven adjusted at halftime to stop Ajayi’s running game, limiting the running back to 70 yards on the ground. The Bulldogs snapped Ajayi’s seven-consecutive games with 100 yards or more rushing.
Late in the third quarter, Burrell found his rhythm, marching the Bulldogs 96 yards down field to set up a Josh Quezada 2-yard score.
Fresno State wasn’t finished there. In the fourth quarter, Burrell went 6-for-7, setting up a 25-yard touchdown pass to Greg Watson, closing the gap to 14.
That would be as close as the Bulldogs would get the rest of the night. Fresno State turned the ball over on downs after cornerback Cleshawn Page broke up a deep pass on fourth down in Bronco territory.
Beau Martin sealed the deal by intercepting Burrell on a quick check down after the Bulldogs recovered an onside kick.
The Broncos claimed their first outright title since WAC days. In 2011, TCU played spoiler to the Broncos’ plans of claiming a title in their first year in the Mountain West. The next year San Diego State beat Boise State on the Blue, creating a three-way tie with Fresno State, SDSU, and the Broncos. Last year, the Broncos dropped two conference games allowing for Utah State to represent the Mountain division in the inaugural Mountain West Championship game.
The conference title gets Boise State over the hump in the Mountain West which plagued them the last few seasons.
With the victory, Boise State is a sure lock-in for the Fiesta Bowl after being the highest rated “Group of Five” team. The formula was easy for the Broncos: win and you’re in.
The Selection Committee will announce the New Years Day bowl games at 12:45 p.m. MST on Sunday. With all signs pointing to the Fiesta Bowl, the Broncos will have earned a birth to the big game three times in the last seven years.
Remember what happened the last time a first-year coach took the Broncos to the Fiesta Bowl…..
Stats and information found via ESPN