The Fresno State Bulldogs combined tough defense and big-play offense to upend conference rival Boise State 28-17 and return the Milk Can trophy to Bulldog Stadium on Saturday.
“I cannot tell you how happy and gratified I am to see all of the hard work paying off for these guys and this coaching staff who have put so much into it,” Fresno State head coach Jeff Tedford said. “Boise State has a great football team. We have a lot of respect for them, and now we have to go and do it one more time.”
The Bulldogs go back to work next week to prepare for their Mountain West Conference title game with the Broncos. But first, they had a little time for celebration.
“Our guys will feel good about themselves, especially the seniors,” Tedford said. Saturday’s game came on Senior Night.
Quarterback Marcus McMaryion shouldered the load against Boise with a career-high 332 passing yards and two touchdowns. He hooked up with wide receiver KeeSean Johnson on six different occasions to the tune of 119 yards and two scores.
Johnson sealed the game with an 81-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter after the Broncos drove down the field and cut the lead to only 2 points.
McMaryion dropped back and fired a pass downfield to the streaking Johnson who burned two Bronco defensive backs before he sidestepped a tackle and dove into the end zone. The score was the longest play for the Bulldogs all season and the eighth touchdown on the year for Johnson.
Coming into the matchup with the No. 23-ranked Broncos, the ‘Dogs had allowed a conference-best 88 points. Just for comparison, the San Jose State Spartans have given up more than 300 points.
After holding Boise to 17 points, the ‘Dogs have given up a total of 105 points within the conference, the best margin in the Mountain West.
The ‘Dogs held the Broncos to 7 points in the first half and 10 in the second, in what was their lowest-scoring game of the season.
Defensive end Malik Forrester recorded a safety in the fourth quarter after he sacked Brett Rypien in the end zone to go along with five tackles, including two tackles for loss in what was his last game at Bulldog Stadium.
The Bulldogs got off to a hot start after they mixed the run and pass on an 11-play drive that culminated in Johnson’s first score of the afternoon. McMaryion connected with wide receiver Da’Mari Scott for a 26-yard gain, which set up running back Jordan Mims, who rushed for 14 yards on 2 attempts to get the ‘Dogs into the red zone.
Johnson delivered and gave the ‘Dogs an early 6-0 lead before kicker Jimmy Camacho’s extra point. Camacho finished the day with 98 points on the season, which tied him for ninth most in school history for a season with Brett Visintainer who accomplished it back in 2003.
Boise State responded with an eight-play drive to tie the game at 7-7. Backup quarterback Montell Cozart completed a 4-yard pass to AJ Richardson, who waited wide open in the end zone.
The action picked up after Camacho tacked on a 22-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the first half to ensure the ‘Dogs lead, 10-7.
Fresno State scored first in the second half after McMaryion’s 36-yard pass to tight end Jared Rice set up Mims’ 1-yard touchdown plunge. Camacho missed the kick but the Bulldogs pushed the lead to 16-7.
After the Broncos put a field goal on the board, Boise State running back Alex Mattison took a short handoff for a goal-line score to cut the deficit to 2 points. The pressure started to mount, but Fresno State offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer dialed up a big play.
McMaryion found Johnson down the field for the 81-yard score, the fourth touchdown of over 63 yards by the offense.
“I had a little smile on my face when I got the play call,” McMaryion said. “I definitely get excited about that kind of stuff, but it’s not just me. It’s the offensive line giving me time, the running backs staying in for protection and the receivers running good routes.”
Fresno State took a commanding lead 26-17 and was able to fend off any chance of a comeback after the timely safety by Forrester.
In front of 31,526 fans, the ‘Dogs reclaimed the Milk Can Trophy, and senior captain Aaron Mitchell lauded the support shown.
“I think it’s been two years since I heard it that loud,” Mitchell said. “I think it’s been a long time coming. I can’t thank the Red Wave enough for showing out today. I don’t think they understand how much they play a factor in this. Their energy, players vibe off that. It really brings a sense of pride to play for the Valley. It was awesome.”
But they know the work isn’t over. The Bulldogs will travel to Boise, Idaho, next Saturday for the Mountain West championship. Although Fresno State owns the tiebreaker in conference record with the win over Boise, the Broncos will host the game.
According to conference rules, the team with the better ranking in the College Football Playoff Poll is selected as the host, but if no team is ranked, the team that has the higher average ranking in four computer polls the conference uses becomes the host.
The College Football Playoff Poll was released on Tuesday. Boise State was ranked No. 23 in the poll before the game. Instead of waiting to see if the playoff committee ranks Fresno State ahead of the Broncos, the conference decided to use the computer polls and announce the host on Sunday.
Boise State finished with a 30.25 average computer poll ranking, while the Bulldogs finished with a 34.25 average ranking. The Associated Press ranked Fresno State No. 25 on Sunday in its Top 25 poll. Boise State is not ranked in the poll.
The championship game starts at 4:45 p.m. at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho, and will be televised on ESPN.
Photos by: Daniel Avalos/Collegian