PROVO, Utah--BYU came from 10 points down twice to score a 35-24 win over Boise State last night, sending the Cougar fans home believing in miracles and the Bronco fans wanting answers.
Two times, true freshman quarterback Tanner Mangum was faced with third-and-long deep in his own territory and delivered long completions when a Bronco defender let a Cougar receiver behind him. With 54 seconds left in the game and BYU behind 24-20, Mangum went back to pass on a fourth-and-seven. Bronco linebacker Tanner Vallejo nearly got to the Eagle High School (Idaho) product, but just as he had the week before against Nebraska, Mangum sent up a pass for grabs. With three Broncos back on the play, it was Cougar receiver Mitchell Juergens that came down with the ball for a 35-yard touchdown. Bronco safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner was in position to make the interception, but got turned around while the ball was in the air, and no one stayed in front of the play to bat the ball down.
Boise State had plenty of time to come back, but Bronco quarterback Ryan Finley threw a deep pass into double coverage on his first opportunity, and Kai Nacua accepted the gift for a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown that provided the final margin of victory. Nacua was one of the heroes for BYU with three interceptions in the game.
Bronco defensive coordinator Marcel Yates preached to his team all offseason about not giving up the big play, something they had done several times in 2014. The big play bug struck again early and often last evening. Boise State nose tackle Armand Nance sacked Mangum on the first play from scrimmage for a nine-yard loss. After an incompletion, Mangum took his team to the line for a third-and-19 from his own 16-yard line. With pressure forcing the freshman to scramble, Juergens broke downfield, and the Bronco defender stopped to watch the action as Juergens raced past him. Just as he was about to be forced out of bounds, Mangum let it fly. Mangum's deep ball fell into the waiting hands of Juergens who ran easily ento the end zone for an 84-yard touchdown.
Donte Deayon's diving interception on BYU's next drive, one of two he had in the game, thwarted penetration into Boise State territory and gave the Broncos the ball on their own four-yard line. The Broncos moved the ball, but the drive stalled at the Boise State 41 and Sean Wale punted for the second time in as many drives.
After Boise State's defense stiffened, the Broncos had excellent field position on their own 48--this time, they capitalized. Quarterback Ryan Finley hit wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes for 21 yards, then after a mixture of passes and runs, Jeremy McNichols bounced outside from the three to even the score at 7.
On Boise State's next series, Finley connected with Chaz Anderson for a 43-yard play to the BYU 38, but Finley then threw the ball into double coverage along the sideline on the next play, and Nacua came down with it at the 1.
The Bronco defense did its job on the next two Cougar series, the second ending with another Deayon interception that he returned 28 yards. Boise State was penalized 15 yards for an illegal block in the back, but the Bronco offense nonetheless took over with dreamy field position at the BYU 32. However, three plays later, Wale was back to punt again at the Cougar 38.
The two teams then traded punts, leaving Boise State with the ball on their own 41 with 3:25 left. Although the Bronco offensive line was called for false starts twice on the drive, something that would become a recurring theme for the veteran unit, Boise State salvaged a 31-yard field goal from Tyler Rausa as time expired for a 10-7 halftime lead.
Finley led Boise State on a seven-play, 70-yard drive to open the second half, thanks to the running of McNichols and Devan Demas and Finley passes of 15 and 26 yards to Anderson and tight end David Lucero, respectively, and a 15-yard penalty on BYU that gave Boise State the ball on the BYU 3. McNichols bulled over the line from that point for his second touchdown and a 17-7 Bronco lead.
It was the first of two 10-point leads for Boise State in the second half, but it wouldn't be enough. After Boise State's defense forced the Cougars into another three-and-out, the Bronco offense was unable to put the foot down, and had to punt themselves.
Wale's 45-yard beauty pinned BYU back at the 16. On second-and-eight, with no one in his area, Bronco linebacker Vallejo dropped out of pass coverage and instinctively shot up through an opening to sack Mangum for an 11-yard loss. BYU was stuck once again with a third-and-19 at the 7, and once again, Mangum went back to pass and was forced to scramble to his end zone. Lightning struck again as this time, Chanceller James got caught watching Mangum as Cougar receiver Devon Blackmon streaked past him. Blackmon had to slow down to catch the pass, enabling James to catch up and make the tackle, but it still resulted in a 70-yard gain.
On the next play, Cougar receiver Mitch Mathews and Bronco cornerback Jonathan Moxey fought for a pass that Mangum had thrown up for grabs. In the scramble for the ball, Moxey was knocked to the ground in the end zone, but Mathews did not come up with the catch. Rather than celebrate an incompletion and resume play with a second-and-10, Moxey complained to the official for not calling offensive pass interference, and was whistled for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. It was one of the turning points in the game, for three plays later, Cougar running back Adam Hine took it in from 21 yards to cut the Bronco lead to 17-14.
Boise State's Finley proceeded to go 4-4 on the Broncos' next possession, hitting tight end Holden Huff for 17 yards, and Williams-Rhodes on passes of 9 and 23 yards to give Finley and Boise State a first down on the BYU 29. Finley then found McNichols out of the backfield, and Jeremy put a nifty move on to take the ball into the end zone for his third TD of the game and another 10-point Bronco lead at 24-14.
What was a defensive struggle in the first half had erupted into a shootout with 2:03 remaining in the third quarter. BYU advanced the ball to the Boise State 43, but the drive stalled and Jonny Linehan came on to punt. Linehan sent his punt to the Bronco 2, where Mathews, who had hauled in the "Hail Mary" pass from Mangum the week before to beat Nebraska, made another great athletic play to keep the ball from going into the end zone.
Two plays into the fourth quarter, Boise State had their 10-point lead and the ball. But after McNichols was stopped for no gain, Finley went back to pass and threw another interception to Nacua, who returned it 28 yards to the Boise State 12. A 20-yard gain by BYU's Algernon Brown set the Cougars up at the 1. Mercy Maston shot through unimpeded from the left side to nail Brown for a loss on the 2, but when a helmetless Justin Taimatuia tackled Brown for a loss on the next play, he was called for a personal foul. NCAA rules require that when a player loses a helmet, they cannot continue to participate in the play. Taimatuia pointed out that a hit to his face by BYU's Tejan Koroma had knocked his helmet off, and, as shown here, Taimatuia had a case, but the officials missed the play, and the result was another first-and-goal at the one. Mangum was stopped for no gain, and a pass in the end zone fell incomplete, but another penalty, this one for pass interference on Deayon, gave BYU yet another first-and-goal at the one. On their fifth try from inside the 2, Mangum capitalized with a quarterback sneak to once again cut the margin to 3 at 24-21.
McNichols returned the ensuing kickoff to the 31, but a 15-yard penalty brought the ball back to the 16. Another false start on the Bronco offensive line didn't help matters, and Wale was forced to punt again.
The Boise State defense held on BYU's next possession, and the Broncos took over at their own 20 with a chance to ice the game with 5:27 remaining. But Boise State was not able to convert a first down, and Wale punted the ball 48 yards that resulted in a Cougar first down at their own 36-yard line.
Two plays later, Hine, who suddenly was finding running room in the usually stingy Bronco rush defense, burst through a hole for 19 yards. Hine's run gave the Cougars a first down at the Bronco 38 with 2:08 left in the contest. Mangum hit Mathews for a gain of 7, but then Boise State's James came through with a sack on second down. The Bronco defense stopped a Mangum to Mathews attempt on third down, setting up fourth-and-7 and the game-winning pass to Juergens.
Boise State, which had built a 150-22 record since 2002 on smart, heady play characterized by mastery of the fundamentals, did not play that way on this night. Twice, Bronco defenders let Cougar receivers by them for big plays, breaking a cardinal rule for defensemen in which they are to never let a receiver get past them. Boise State was called for 11 penalties for 76 yards, many of the costly variety. The veteran offensive line, which had a combined 116 starts coming in, nonetheless were called for four false starts. Behind most of the contest, BYU managed to only commit five penalties for 54 yards.
Mangum finished the game 17-28 for 309 and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Hine started slow, but finished with 19 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown to lead the Cougar ground game. The big plays for Juergens (four catches for 172 yards and two scores) and Blackmon (six for 105) enabled them to enjoy big games, and Mathews hauled in five passes for 32 yards.
Finley finished 25-for-38 for 297 yards and a touchdown for the Broncos, but the three interceptions loomed large. Williams-Rhodes grabbed 11 passes for 107 yards, Anderson had three catches for 66 yards, and McNichols accounted for 95 yards of all-purpose offense (46 yards rushing and 49 yards receiving).
Today promises to one for film watching and soul searching for Boise State. The Broncos have five days to prepare for their third game of the season with Idaho State. And Boise State fans will be waiting for answers from the Bronco coaching staff.