BOISE, Idaho — On the verge of another win over a Pac-12 team on its home field, Boise State nearly crumbled in the final minutes.
Fortunately the Broncos did enough over the first three quarter to hold on.
Jeremy McNichols rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns, Tyler Horton returned his first career interception 85 yards for a touchdown and Boise State held on in the fourth quarter for a 31-28 win over Washington State on Saturday night.
Brett Rypien threw for 299 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown to Thomas Sperbeck, but was intercepted twice in the fourth quarter, giving Washington State chances until the final play when Luke Falk’s desperation heave was batted down.
Boise State (2-0) won its 34th straight regular season non-conference home game, knocking off the last out of conference team to win on “The Blue.”
“We did not face adversity in our first game. … We got a chance to do that tonight,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.
Falk was 55-of-71 passing for 480 yards and four touchdowns, but it took three quarters before he could beat the Broncos throwing downfield, hitting Tavares Martin Jr. on a 50-yard TD late in the third quarter that pulled the Cougars within 24-14. Rypien quickly answered, completing three straight passes for 68 yards before McNichols’ second touchdown run pushed the Broncos lead 31-14 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
That proved to be enough — barely.
“There were definitely some uncharacteristic mistakes I made tonight,” Rypien said. “But we won. We’re 2-0.”
Falk rallied in the fourth quarter, throwing touchdown passes of 14 yards — on fourth down — to Jamal Morrow and hitting Gabe Marks on a 33-yard TD with 4:17 left right after Rypien was intercepted to pull within 31-28. Washington State got the ball back with a minute remaining after poor clock management by the Broncos, but the Cougars had their own problems with the clock and settled for Falk’s final throw that fell short.
Leach ripped into his team’s toughness after the loss, saying the Cougars outplayed Boise State in every other category.
“We outperformed them in a ton of different ways but we’re not tough enough,” Leach said. “And as a football team we have to get (a lot) tougher and right now we’re not very tough.”
Washington State (0-2) was trying to match what it did in 2001 when the Cougars won 41-20 in Boise and rebound from being stunned by FCS power Eastern Washington in last week’s opener. But the Cougars got off to an awful start with Falk getting intercepted on their opening drive deep in Boise State territory and watching Horton manage to stay inbound and sprint 85 yards to give the Broncos the early lead.
It was the first of six drives by the Cougars that reached Boise State territory and failed to end in points. The Cougars had a field goal attempt blocked, punted twice and turned the ball over on downs twice inside the Broncos half of the field, the last coming when Morrow was stuffed on fourth-and-1 at the 46 with 5:12 remaining.
Washington State: Any momentum from last year’s nine wins and a bowl victory is gone for the Cougars. They were able to rebound a year ago after losing to FCS Portland State in the opener by winning at Rutgers, but an 0-2 start this year may be difficult to overcome with the upcoming schedule.
Boise State: The Broncos remembered how to win at home. Boise State lost its final two home games of last season, the first time losing consecutive home games since 1997. They made sure it wasn’t three straight.
The Broncos were on the edge of cracking the Top 25 last week. There’s a chance the Broncos could slide in this week, although the fourth quarter rally by Washington State may have taken away some votes. Either way, if the Broncos can win at Oregon State in two weeks, they should be able to break through at that point.
Washington State: The Cougars close out their non-conference schedule as Idaho makes the 8-mile trip across the state border to face the Cougars.
Boise State: The Broncos get the week off before facing a second straight Pac-12 school, traveling to Oregon State on Sept. 24.
“It was a good test for us. It was nice to be able to see what we’re made of early,” Boise State linebacker Ben Weaver said.