The observers who claim the Western Athletic Conference title team should be ranked higher are even more correct.
Behind Ryan Dinwiddie's clutch passing, Boise State roared to a 45-28 win Saturday night. A crowd of 39,685 watched on a humid night at Aloha Stadium.
"It's a great college football environment," Boise State head coach Dan Hawkins said. "We knew it would be about toughness. Our guys are tremendously resilient."
Before a national TV audience on ESPN2, Boise State finished the league schedule with a championship and a 12-1 record (8-0 WAC). With the BCS ratings being released Sunday, Boise State may end up staying home for the Humanitarian Bowl. It was business as usual for the Broncos, along with their 500 or so traveling fans.
"Hawaii's a very good team, and it was good to get prepped up for the bowl game this way," said free safety Chris Carr, who had an interception and helped lead a defense that kept Hawaii's prolific offense off balance much of the night.
Hawaii closed regular-season play 8-5 (5-3 WAC) and will play in the Hawaii Bowl against Houston on Christmas Day. Houston is the sixth-place finisher from Conference USA.
"Our defense played good enough at times. We got breaks. We just weren't in sync tonight," Hawaii head coach June Jones said. "Boise State is very well-coached."
The final regular-season home game of the season also meant it was senior night for 19 Warriors. "It's very hard to say goodbye to these kids. They came here when the program was 0-12 the year before," Jones said. "These kids learned how to work hard. They made the commitment."
Hawaii quarterback Jason Whieldon, who stepped in last week and led Hawaii over Alabama, wasn't as effective against Boise State. Jones rode Whieldon until Hawaii was behind, 38-21, early in the fourth quarter.
"Boise State is a great team, and they showed why they're 12-1," Whieldon said. "I didn't make some of the plays and throws I needed to make. … It's real hard to lose. We really wanted this win. We need to correct some things. We'll be back."
The opening quarter was a demonstration in extremes for fans and opponents of the Run & Shoot. The Warriors had third-and-1 on its first drive, but instead of running for an easy first down, Whieldon threw a post route pass that fell incomplete, leading to a punt.
LaBoy first made his presence felt by sacking Dinwiddie on third-and-6 on the ensuing Boise possession to force a punt.
Boise's special teams stepped up with a big stop when Hawaii faked a punt from the Boise State 38-yard line. Brad Allen came up with a key open-field tackle to give the Broncos some momentum. On the next play, however, LaBoy batted Dinwiddie's pass into the air, and the 6-foot-5, 254-pound defensive end dove for an interception.
Hawaii needed five plays to drive 33 yards to paydirt. Whieldon completed short passes to Cockheran and Rivers before scrambling up the middle against an outside blitz for a key 7-yard gain for a first down. One play later, Whieldon connected with Cockheran on an out route from five yards away, leaving free safety Wes Nurse behind; Nurse slipped on the play. Nolan Miranda's PAT kick gave Hawaii a 7-0 lead with 3:44 left in the first quarter.
Dinwiddie limped off the field with a sore leg on the next series after a botched option play, but he returned for Boise's ensuing possession. After a shanked punt by Kurt Milne gave BSU first down at the Hawaii 41-yard line, the Broncos needed just four plays to reach the end zone. Lee Marks bolted up the middle, juked to the right and blew past UH defenders en route to a 30-yard touchdown jaunt.
Tyler Jones' extra-point kick tied the game at 7 with nine seconds left in the opening quarter.
While Hawaii's offense sputtered with back-to-back three-and-outs, Boise was just getting warmed up. Allen returned a Milne punt from Bronco territory to the Hawaii 30-yard line. Dinwiddie connected with his right wide receiver, T.J. Acree, for a 20-yard gain despite tight coverage. Two plays later, Donny Heck took a toss and swept by the left side, hurdling into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. Jones added the extra point, and Boise State led 14-7 with 12:34 to play in the second quarter.
Hawaii's string of three-and-outs extended to four consecutive possessions as Whieldon misfired and no ground game developed.
Another key punt return by Allen, this one for 20 yards, set BSU up at the Hawaii 46. Dinwiddie fired a 35-yard strike to Lawrence Bady, but three penalties set the Broncos back to the 38-yard line. On third-and-37, Dinwiddie floated a perfect pass to Acree on a post pattern, and the 5-10, 172-pound receiver hung on despite a big hit. That play put BSU back in field-goal range, and Jones drilled a 20-yarder to increase the Broncos' lead to 17-7 with 6:18 remaining in the first half.
The Warrior offense finally broke the drought with a nine-play, 80-yard drive. Owens, playing sparingly up to this point, came up with a key play. His catch and run on third-and-2 went for 25 yards, keeping the drive moving. Whieldon also came up with some nifty running, gaining 21 yards on a third-and-1 speed option to the weak side to the Boise State 6-yard line.
Two plays later, Whieldon fired a bullet to Britton Komine on a slant route for Hawaii's second touchdown. Miranda's PAT brought Hawaii within 17-14 with 2:58 remaining in the half.
Boise State wasted no time in responding. Carr returned the kickoff 55 yards to the Hawaii 43, and suddenly, the momentum swung back to the Broncos. "I needed to break one," Carr said. "There was a lot of blocking up front, and I had lots of energy."
On third-and-8, Dinwiddie found Bady wide open on a go route for a 31-yard gain to the Hawaii 10-yard line. Two plays later, David Mikell raced around right end for a 7-yard touchdown run. Jones' kick made it 24-14 in favor of Boise State with 58 seconds left in the half.
Dinwiddie completed 11-of-18 attempts for 172 yards with one interception in the first half. His average of nearly 10 yards per attempt was astronomical. Boise State had 215 total yards, including 43 rushing yards on 17 attempts.
Whieldon was 18-of-31 for 140 yards with an interception and an average of less than 5 yards per attempt. Hawaii had 199 total yards by halftime, including 59 rushing yards on 11 attempts. Whieldon was the leading Warrior rusher with 40 yards on six carries.
Hawaii owned an edge in time of possession, 17:01 to 12:59.
The Bronco offense was lethargic to begin the second half, and punter Kyle Stringer shanked his attempt for a 17-yard net. Hawaii took over at the Boise State 46, but faced third-and-9 on the 34. Whieldon fired a pass to Komine in the flat, and the junior galloped away from a defender for a 17-yard gain. On the ensuing play, Bass darted through the middle and dove past a defender for a 17-yard touchdown run. Miranda's kick cut Boise State's lead to 24-21 with 12:15 left in the third quarter.
Boise gave Hawaii opportunities to take the lead, but the Warriors couldn't come through. Whieldon was intercepted at midfield by Gabe Franklin, and even after Allen muffed a Milne punt, Hawaii could do no better than stall with a three-and-out at the Boise State 48-yard line.
Milne pinned BSU with a 42-yard sky punt, and the Broncos started at their own 9. They drove 91 yards in 12 plays, eating 6 minutes and 12 seconds off the clock. Dinwiddie completed all five of his pass attempts during the march, including a 29-yard pass to Tony McPherson.
Boise State came up big on fourth-and-2 at the Hawaii 16. Dinwiddie found backup tight end Kevin Louwsma across the middle for a 3-yard pickup and a first down. Heck galloped and juked through the middle two plays later for an 8-yard touchdown run. Jones added the PAT, and BSU led 31-21 with 11 seconds left in the third quarter.
With opportunities dwindling, the Warriors appeared to be back on track offensively. Whieldon hit three-straight completions as Hawaii marched to the 47-yard line, but he misfired on his next three attempts and Milne punted again. Boise State's offense continued to roll; Dinwiddie found slot receiver Jerry Smith open for a 68-yard pass play. Heck finished the 72-yard drive with a 2-yard leap into the end zone, and Boise State led 38-21 with 13:05 to play in the game.
Enter Tim Chang. The former starter stepped in and drilled passes all over the field to receivers. He completed 6-of-9 attempts, including a 27-yard catch and run by Owens. Hawaii got back on the scoreboard when Owens' caught a bullet from Chang across the middle, raced down the left sideline and palmed the football inside the pylon as he fell out of bounds. Miranda's kick made it 38-28 with 9:49 remaining.
The Warriors forced Boise State to punt. Stringer came through with a sky punt that bounced on the 4-yard line and was downed at the 1. Chang completed a pair of passes to Se'e Poumele for a first down, but his next attempt, intended for Owens, was intercepted by Carr at the 22.
On fourth-and-1, Heck ran left, then cut back through a gap at right guard for a 13-yard touchdown run. Boise led 45-28 with 3:55 remaining.
LaBoy and the other 18 seniors spent well over an hour greeting family, friends and fans after the game, as is the custom with Hawaii's senior night. With hundreds of leis and autographs to be shared, LaBoy managed a smile. "It's good, but it's sad. It's been so great to be here. I'm really appreciative for the chance to play here."
@ Aloha Stadium 1st 2nd 3rd 4th F
Boise State 07 17 07 14 45
Hawaii 07 07 07 07 28