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Boise State defenders bring down Fresno State running back Ronnie Rivers (20) in the Mountain West championship at Albertsons Stadium on Dec. 2, 2017 in Boise, Idaho. (Joe Jaszewski/Idaho Statesman/TNS)

Bulldogs come up short in championship game

The Fresno State Bulldogs’ pursuit of a Mountain West Conference title came to an end in a 17-14 slugfest in the championship game against rival Boise State at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho, on Saturday.

“I’m really proud of this team and our staff,” said head coach Jeff Tedford despite the loss. “We fell short tonight, but this team has accomplished so much.”

The Bulldogs finished the regular season 9-4 with the Hawaii Bowl to look forward to, but their turnaround can’t be understated. Coming off a 1-11 campaign in 2016, the ‘Dogs completed the biggest turnaround in college football, winning eight more games than last year.

“We have a lot to be proud of. These guys worked really hard to get to this point,” Tedford said. “I told them in the locker room that they shouldn’t hang their heads, because they accomplished a lot this year when no one really believed in them after last season.”

Junior quarterback Marcus McMaryion had two rushing touchdowns on the night but also threw a costly interception on the final drive of the game.

Although Fresno State missed an opportunity to win a championship, the team now shifts its focus to the bowl game coming up.

“This stings, but we have one more game to play, so we’re going to watch the film and get better from it,” McMaryion said.

Defensively, the ‘Dogs continued to compete. For the second week in a row, Fresno State held one of the highest scoring teams in the MW to another season low.

Unfortunately for the ‘Dogs, Fresno State couldn’t generate any takeaways, and at the end, that was the difference.

Linebacker Jeffery Allison, fresh off an All-Mountain West First-Team selection, said the team just came to play.

“We wanted to stay together and give our offense the chance to get out on the field,” Allison said. “We just wanted to compete.”

The Bulldogs opened the championship game with strong intent after methodically moving the ball down the field. The ‘Dogs set up for a 41-yard field goal try, but senior kicker Jimmy Camacho was unable to convert.

The missed field goal would loom large for Fresno State.

After Boise State scored on a field goal, the ‘Dogs got it together. McMaryion orchestrated a drive that culminated in a fourth-and-1 run that ended in the end zone for six.

McMaryion surveyed the defense before he tucked the ball in and beat the Broncos to the goal line for the early score.

Boise State wouldn’t be held out of the end zone for long before running back Alexander Mattison took a run up the middle from 3 yards out.

Down 10-7 late in the second quarter, the ‘Dogs scored their final touchdown of the night on a five-play, 77-yard drive.

The coaches called McMaryion’s number again, this time for an 8-yard touchdown run.

Fresno State led 14-10 heading into halftime.

Although the Bulldogs had the lead coming out of the break, their offense sputtered throughout the second half.

“We had poor field positions during the third quarter. They had us backed up,” Tedford said of his team’s second half struggles. “I thought we flipped it in the fourth quarter, with hopes we could make something happen. We just didn’t capitalize during the second half, and we didn’t convert enough third downs.”

The Broncos broke the scoreless spell when a 59-yard pass to wide receiver Cedrick Wilson set up a 2-yard run by running back Ryan Wolpin.

With 2:23 left on the clock, the ‘Dogs had a chance to save their title aspirations but couldn’t convert when McMaryion was picked off by Mountain West defensive player of the year Leighton Vander Esch.

Although the Bulldogs walk away empty-handed, their knack of proving the critics wrong all season is something to be admired.

“Even though we fell short tonight, I am so proud of these guys, and I love them,” Tedford said. “We’re going to go back to the drawing board, and we’ll be back.”