Driven to Succeed

Not everything went Boise State's way in 1990. The Bronco players persevered, however, and made themselves better. Throughout the season, they exhibited tremendous class and in the end, enjoyed one of the best seasons in school history. Join us as the Time Capsule series looks back 20 years ago to the 1990 Broncos.

1990 was a landmark year in Boise State football.  Other than what can be achieved when a team is on the same page, there are no "lessons" that jump out at you like the other "Time Capsules" we are featuring in the 45-Day Countdown.

So just sit back and enjoy the tale!

Although Boise State qualified for the Division I-AA playoffs in 1988, it had really been seven years since the Bronco football team had the kind of success that fans were used to under Tony Knap and Jim Criner.  After Criner left for Iowa State following the 1982 season, the school experienced the longest dry spell in their history. 

Defensive coach Lyle Setencich took over for Criner and did not fare well as the head man, going 24-20 in four frustrating years.  In Setencich's last year (1986), the Broncos went 5-6.  A losing season was unheard of in Boise , with the last one being in 1946, the year before Lyle Smith grabbed the reins of the program.  Skip Hall, one of Don James' trusted assistants at Washington , was hired by Boise State to inject new life into the program.  While Hall ran a crystal clear program and invigorated an offense that was desperate for attention, Boise State only went 6-5, 8-4 and 6-5 in Hall's first three seasons.

A lot of things went the right way in 1990.  While the word "magical" is overused in sports and probably doesn't fully apply to the '90 Broncos, a lot of things went Boise State 's way that year.

Hall's team opened with a 14-10 squeaker over a highly-regarded Stephen F. Austin State in Bronco Stadium. 

1990: (10-4, 6-2 Big Sky)

#12 Boise State made a statement with a 14-10 win over #2 Stephen F. Austin State to open the 1990 season in Bronco Stadium before a crowd of 19,312.

The Broncos rallied from a ten-point second-half deficit to pull out the win.  The margin would have been more had it not been for a blocked field goal by Anthony Brown and an end zone interception by cornerback Elijah George.  The Bronco offense was held to just 101 yards in the first half.

The Boise State defense was stout and recorded five interceptions on the evening.  The visitors from Texas were held to 177 yards and committed 6 turnovers in the 2nd half. 

The Bronco offense woke up midway through the third quarter.  Chris Thomas scored from the 5 with 2:56 left in the quarter, capping a 66-yard drive in 11 plays,.  After two changes of possession, the Broncos got the ball on the Lumberjack 48.  Quarterback Mike Virden hit tight end Larry Stayner for 28 yards and Bart Hull scored from the 20 for what proved to be the winning touchdown. 

Thomas had 78 yards to lead the Bronco rushing attack.

The following week, Boise State held a 17-0 lead in the third quarter and then held on to beat Weber State 24-14.  Wildcat quarterback Jamie Martin's passing barrage fell just short.  Martin threw for 190 yards in the second half in trying to bring his team back.

The game wasn't over until linebacker Tim O'Connor intercepted a pass and ran it back 25 yards for a touchdown with 20 seconds remaining.  O'Connor stepped in front of Trevor Shaw on an attempted screen and sailed into the end zone untouched.

Weber had closed to 17-14 with 3:22 remaining as Martin hit Scoye Jackson with an 8-yard pass. 

Chris Thomas ran for a 2-yard touchdown and Mike Black kicked a 21-yard field goal to provide Boise State 's 10 points at halftime.  With 1:10 left in the third quarter, Virden hit Winky White with a 35-yard scoring pass.  Weber came back as Martin connected with Dane Hall for 65 yards to the Bronco 12.  Four plays later, Geoff Mitchell scored from the one.  After an exchange of punts, Weber State drove 86 yards in 13 plays to make it close.

Jackson and Mitchell combined for 168 yards for Weber State while Thomas ran for 149 yards for the Broncos.  Thomas moved up to #5 on the all-time Bronco career rushing list, trailing only Cedric Minter, Rodney Webster, Jon Francis and Terry Zahner.  Virden was 12-21 for 115 yards while White paced the Broncos in receiving with 4 catches for 71 yards.

The Broncos traveled to Cheney , Washington the following week.  Harold Wright ran roughshod through the Bronco defense for 152 yards on 40 carries as Boise State fell to Eastern Washington 16-10.  The Eagle defense sacked Virden five times and held Boise State to a negative 16 rushing yards in the second half.

Still, Boise State had a chance with the ball on the Eagle 42 with 2:01 to go.  A pass interference call gave the Broncos a first down at the 30.  Virden spotted White alone in the back of the end zone.  White made the catch but the official said he did not get a foot down in bounds, despite replays clearly showing White dragged his right foot before falling out of bounds.  Three subsequent attempts to reach the end zone were unsuccessful.

Thomas churned out 61 yards on 17 carries to top the 2,000-yard mark for his Bronco career. 

The following week, Boise State ran out to a 27-0 first-half lead and downed Boston University 34-21 in Bronco Stadium. Thomas, who had 99 yards on 27 carries, moved into fourth place on the all-time Boise State rushing list.

Boise State methodically drove 72 yards in 16 plays after the opening kickoff as Thomas dove in from a yard out.  Virden hit Chris Sweeting with a 63-yard bomb and Winky White hauled in an 87-yarder to put the Broncos up 21-0.  Mike Black added field goals of 31 and 47 yards before the teams went into the locker rooms.  Boston lost four fumbles in the first half, including two on kickoff returns.

Boston came back in the third quarter.  Star Greene hit Brian Straughter in the end zone with 1:45 left in the quarter.  On their next possession, Green finished a drive by hitting All-American Daren Altieri with a three-yard score.  Altieri was held to six catches for 50 yards by Bronco cornerback Kenny Kuehl. 

With the score 27-14, Virden hit White with another touchdown pass to put the game out of reach.  Virden finished with a steady 13-of-19 for 223 yards. The Broncos recorded 416 yards of total offense.

The Broncos traveled to California for another meeting with Division I-A Long Beach State.  Boise State blew a 20-14 lead in the fourth quarter and fell to legendary coach George Allen's team 21-20. 

Black missed a 37-yard field goal that would have nearly iced the game with 4:10 to go.  Instead, the 49'ers drove 80 yards for the winning score.

Long Beach staked a 14-0 lead when Todd Studer hit Sean Foster with a scoring strike and Sean Cheevers scored.  But Boise State fought back with four unanswered scores.  With the Broncos leading 17-14 and 5:58 to go, Frank Robinson blocked a punt, giving his offense great field position.  Black booted his second field goal of the game to extend the lead to 20-14. 

Anthony Brown intercepted a Studer pass at the 50 and returned it to the LBS 25-yard line but the missed field goal left the door open and the 49'ers took advantage.

White led Boise State with 251 all-purpose yards and was the top receiver with 150 yards on 7 receptions.  Thomas gained 119 yards and scored once on 29 carries.

Not only did Boise State get to return home after the disappointing loss in California ; they would also get a chance to exact revenge on Montana , who had trounced the Broncos 48-13 in Missoula the year before. 

Boise State exploded for a 34-3 halftime lead and coasted to a 41-3 win over Montana .  The Broncos accumulated 267 yards of total offense in the first half to just 51 for the Grizzlies.  Montana came into the game averaging 41 points a game but star quarterback Grady Bennett committed 5 first-half turnovers.  He fumbled after being sacked by Helgeson on the first Montana play.  Bennett was just 5-13 for 42 yards with 3 interceptions, 2 fumbles and was sacked twice. 

Hull finished with 12 carries for 67 yards while Thomas had 16 carries for 63.  Virden completed 15-of-24 passes for 176 yards and a score.  Terry Heffner was the leading receiver with 3 receptions for 73 yards. 

The Walkup Skydome was not an easy place to win at.  Down 20-9 midway through the second quarter, Boise State mounted a comeback to get a 28-20 win over Northern Arizona in Flagstaff .  It would prove to be a huge win for the Broncos. 

With 12:08 remaining in the game, Virden hit Chris Sweeting for 17 yards to put Boise State ahead for the first time 21-20.  After the Bronco defense held, Thomas put the game away with runs of 54, 14 and 8 to set him up for a one-yard plunge.  Thomas finished with 139 yards on 21 carries.

NAU drew first blood with an 81-yard drive to begin the game that resulted in a 4-yard pass from John Bonds to Lamont Shedrick.  Boise State came back as Helgeson got a safety and on the ensuing Bronco possession, Sheldon Forehand shook his defender for a 58-yard scoring play from Virden.  The Lumberjacks burned the Bronco defense with a 68-yard run by Charles McKenzie followed by a Big Sky Conference record 99-yard pass from Bonds to Hendricks Johnson.

After Anthony Brown blocked a field goal try, Boise State drove 70 yards with Virden scoring on a 10-yard run to bring Boise State within 6 at 20-15.  The Broncos went for two and did not convert.

Thomas bothered the NAU defense with 139 yards rushing on 21 carries while Heffner had 4 catches for 47 yards and David Tingstad had 4 receptions for 31.  Eric Helgeson had three sacks to lead the defense despite being double-teamed constantly.

A trip to the Minidome was next.  Boise State grabbed a 24-9 lead in the first half and blitzed Idaho State 44-16 in Pocatello .

The Broncos ran out of the gate with a 61-yard drive in 10 plays to score off the opening kickoff.  Virden floated a 10-yard pass in the end zone to Forehand.  After Idaho State 's Darren Goodman nailed a 48-yard field goal, Boise State 's Mike Wilson scored on a 37-yard reverse on his first collegiate carry. 

"It was a very workmanlike performance," Bronco head coach Skip Hall said.  "Everybody contributed and played well."

Chris Thomas moved into third place all-time with 3,553 career all-purpose yards.  He gained 82 on the ground on 21 carries.

Virden fired 3 touchdown passes and was 21-27 for 210 yards.  The Broncos were well-balanced with 288 rushing yards and 223 through the air.  White led Bronco receivers with 6 catches for 98 yards.

Thomas (4 yards) and Spearman (28 yards) found paydirt on the ground while Heffner (1 yard) and White (30 yards) were on the receiving end of Virden's other TD passes.

Boise State traveled to Bozeman riding a three-game winning streak.  The Broncos defeated Montana State 31-27 in dramatic fashion as a wild rally was successful. 

With Montana State leading 21-20 and 3:05 left in the game, MSU advanced their lead to 27-20 as Si Ryan dove over from the one.  The Bobcats lined up for the extra point.  But Frank Robinson burst in from the right side for his fifth blocked kick of the season and Boise State 's 10th of the year.  The ball bounced right into the arms of Elijah George, who ran 80 yards untouched for two points to make it 27-22.

  Boise State got the ensuing kick and drove into Bobcat territory only to be intercepted.  There now was not much room for error, but the Bronco defense held to force a Montana State punt.  Punter Darren Svendsen could not field the high punt and the ball sailed through the end zone for a safety. 

That made it 27-24 with 1:39 left, no Bronco timeouts and star playmakers Thomas and White sidelined with injuries.  Boise State got the ball again and this time did not waste their chance.  The Broncos drove down the field to the MSU 22, where quarterback Mike Virden hit tight end Larry Stayner with a perfect pass as only 53 seconds remained to give Boise State the win.  Fullback David Tingstad led the team in rushing with eight carries for 50 yards.  Virden finished 21-of-43 for 254 yards and two touchdowns.

Bart Hull bulled over for three touchdowns to lead #6 Boise State to a 30-14 win over #2 Nevada in Bronco Stadium the following week.  The Bronco defense, meanwhile, held the Pack to a season low 14 yards on 49 attempts. 

"They did a great job," Nevada head coach Chris Ault said.  "They played a hell of a game."

A crowd of 22,611 watched the contest between 2 of the top 3 I-AA teams in the land.  Helgeson had 3 sacks of Pack quarterback Chris Gatlin for 26 yards and was credited with 4 hurried passes.  He had five solo tackles and assisted on four others, all the while battling against 6'7" Nevada tackle Tony Wells and more often than not, had to fight through double teams.

Thomas hauled in a 15-yard pass from Virden and Black had a field goal to account for Boise State 's other scores.  Thomas finished the game with a workmanlike 69 yards on 23 carries.

The following week, Idaho defensive end Robinson made a leaping interception to preserve a 21-14 win for Idaho .  #14 Idaho was fighting for a I-AA playoff berth and needed the win.  Boise State was already in good position for the postseason.

After a 5-yard gain on a fake field goal try, Hull burst through for a 2-yard score to tie the game at 14.  But Idaho controlled the fourth quarter.

Devon Pearce ripped through the Bronco defense for 226 yards and 2 TD's.  Scott Russell became Boise State 's all-time leading tackler with 18 stops on the day.  Russell's total of 404 eclipsed the existing record of 397 by Carl Keever.  Robinson recorded his seventh blocked kick of the season on a field goal attempt by Idaho 's Thayne Doyle.  Robinson added an interception in the game.

Thomas was held to 27 yards rushing on 14 carries and Idaho controlled the clock, holding on to the ball for 36:09 to 23:51 for Boise State .

White had 6 receptions for 151 yards while Virden was 20-34 for 252 yards but 3 interceptions.

The Bronco defense shone in a 20-3 win over #11 Northern Iowa in the NCAA Division I-AA first round, which saw punter Mike Black tie the Bronco record with 11 punts and cornerback Frank Robinson halt 3 Northern Iowa drives with interceptions. The Bronco defense held Northern Iowa to a negative 5 yards rushing and only 156 yards of total offense.  Northern Iowa came into the game averaging 375 yards and 30 points per game.  It was the fourth time in five home games that Boise State had held their opponent to negative rushing yards. 

The Bronco defense thwarted six drives with interceptions against a quarterback (Jay Johnson) who had thrown just seven picks all year. Johnson, who came into the game as the #2 passer in the nation, was held to 13-45 passing.

Russell and Shawn Anderson led the Bronco defensive effort with eight tackles each.

Black booted field goals of 28 and 50 to put the Broncos up 6-3 at the half.  The Bronco offense finally got untracked when Virden hit White with a 7-yard pass to put Coach Hall's team up 13-3.  Inspired that their offense had put points on the board, the "D" snared interceptions on Northern Iowa 's next three drives.  Lyle, Robinson and Elijah George were the recipients. 

With starting backs Thomas and Hull both banged up, sophomore Sean Sanders had 42 yards rushing and a 6-yard touchdown.

Bronco fans witnessed a thrilling 20-13 win over Middle Tennessee State in the I-AA Quarterfinals, when the stingy Boise State defense again excelled, limiting MTSU to 26 yards passing. The key play of the game came with the score tied at 13 with 11:30 to go. Boise State had a fourth-and-two on its own 19-yard line. Hall gambled. Punter Mike Black took the snap and floated a pass to George. The Raiders smelled it out and dropped two men to cover him. But Black's pass was perfect for an 18-yard gain and a first down. The Broncos went on to score the winning touchdown on a 1-yard run by Sanders with 5:27 to go.

The Broncos advanced to a I-AA semifinal matchup with Nevada .  But the Nevada team that was trounced just four weeks earlier was not the same team this time around.  In a classic that lasted nearly four hours, the Pack prevailed 59-52 in triple overtime in Reno .

But not without a host of heroics on both sides of the ball.  Duane Halliday, who was Boise State 's starting quarterback in 1989 but lost his job to Virden, came in just before halftime for an ineffective and pressing Virden.  Despite the fact that he hadn't played in 6 weeks, Halliday completed 23-of-37 passes in little over a half for an astounding 382 yards and 3 touchdowns to almost pull off an incredible comeback.

Nevada jumped on the Broncos for a 13-0 lead in the first quarter behind two field goals and Joe Kaspers' 31-yard interception return of a Mike Virden pass. 

The key play of the game came with Boise State leading 35-31 in the fourth. The Bronco defense moved to stuff a run by Whalen on a 3rd-and-2 at Nevada 's 28-yard line.  Six Broncos were on hand to make the tackle.  Whalen miraculously slipped free from the pile, broke outside, and romped untouched for a 72-yard backbreaking touchdown.  The Broncos had taken the lead on a 6-yard pass from Halliday to Heffner with 10:25 remaining.

It was a wild fourth quarter as the lead changed hands three times.   Boise State had tied the game with 56 seconds left when Virden hit Ryan Teel on a 7-yard scoring strike to cap a 9-play, 79-yard drive.  That followed a 10-yard Chris Vargas run with 3:55 left to put the Pack up 45-38.  Black had tied the game at 38 with a 38-yard field goal.

The score was tied at 45 at the end of regulation.  Nevada got first possession but missed a field goal.  Boise State had a chance to win and lined up for a 35-yard attempt.  But it was wide right and the teams went into a second overtime.

Whalen bolted for his third touchdown of the game from eight yards out to put the Pack ahead for good.  When Halliday's fourth-and-10 pass fell incomplete, all of Reno celebrated Nevada 's berth in the national championship game against Georgia Southern.

White shattered a school record with 264 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns on 11 catches. 

A win would have put the Broncos in their 2nd national championship game exactly 10 years after the 1st.  But it was not to be.


Starting Lineup:

C Jack Porter (#59)

RG Carl Ramos (#79)

LG Dave Giacomazzo (#73)

LT 71 Jermaine Belin (#71)

TE Ryan Teel (#99)

SE Winky White #1)

FL Terry Heffner (#85)

QB Mike Virden (#13)

TB Chris Thomas (#20)

FB David Tingstad (#11)


DT Shawn Anderson (#97)

NT Anthony Hernandez (#98)

DE Todd Gilkey (#91)

DE Erik Helgeson (#46)

OLB Tim O'Connor (#58)

OLB Kenny Kuehl (#7)

MLB Scott Russell (#44)

CB Elijah George (#27)

CB Frank Robinson (#3)

SS Tim Langhans (#40)

FS Rod Johnson (#16)


Other Key Players:

Anthony Brown (#43)

Defensive Tackle Louis Ray (#94)

Linebacker Tim Langhans (#40)

Defensive End Chris Shepherd (#93)

Defensive End Durelle Goodloe (#55)

Safety Darrin Lyle (#19)

Cornerback Kenny Kuehl (#7)

Linebacker Matt McLaughlin (#57)

Defensive Tackle Jim Pantner (#90)

Linebacker Rob Gates (#49)

Brian Matson (#63)

Linebacker Mark Criner (#33)

Cornerback Marcell King (#29)

Linebacker Scott Monk

Cornerback Keith Morioka (#5)


QB Duane Halliday (#18)

WR Mike Wilson (#14)

Left Tackle Dave Koch (#78)

Tackle—Greg Cooper #71

Tackle—George Alexander #69

Tight End—Larry Stayner #86

Left Guard Mike Bills (#62)

Right Tackle Lee Duncan (#66)

Center Tim Fischer (#54)

Right Guard Greg Alexander (#69)

Center Jeff Pitman

Running Back Isiah Spearman (#32)

Quarterback Jeff Mladenich (#6)

Quarterback Travis Stuart (#1)



Offensive Coordinator—John Gough

Assistant—Heath McInerny

Quarterback Coach—Jim Zorn

Wide Receivers Coach—Jeff Murphy

Running Backs Coach—Jay Mills

Tight Ends Coach—Jeff Lindsley

Defensive Coordinator and Secondary Coach—Jim Fleming

Secondary Assistant—Chris Culig

Defensive Line Coach—Steve Burrato

Assistant Defensive Line Coach—Pete Kwiatkowski

Linebackers Coach—Scott Pelleur


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