Fresno State quarterback Brian Burrell practices for the Mountain West Championship game that will take place Saturday at Albertsons Stadium in Bouse, Idaho. Photo by Darlene Wendels/The Collegian
After an up-and-down season that featured adversity time and time again, the Fresno State football team is in contention for what it had its eyes set on the whole time: a Mountain West Championship.
This time around, the Bulldogs will take on longtime rival Boise State (10-2, 7-1 MW). The Broncos are currently ranked No. 22 in both the College Football Playoff Rankings and the AP Top 25 polls.
“We’re really fired up,” Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter said. “The only people that believed that we were going to be here [in the championship] were our players and our coaching staff. There was probably a little doubt in that group particularly after how we played in that Wyoming game. I’m really impressed with the way our guys rallied and the way our assistants really improved and developed them throughout the year and found ways to win. It just shows you what you can do through perseverance.”
In the Oct. 17 meeting earlier this season, the Broncos took the Milk Can back, topping the ‘Dogs by a score of 37-27. In that game, Marteze Waller rushed for 164 yards and two touchdowns. Boise State running back Jay Ajayi also had a solid performance on the ground, carrying the ball 30 times for 158 yards and a couple of scores.
The contest was close leading up until the fourth quarter, before the Broncos used their trickery to pull away.
“We didn’t finish,” Burrell said. “We were in the game late, tired through three quarters, and they beat us in the fourth quarter.”
At the time, the 10-point defeat marked the Bulldogs’ second loss of a three-game skid.
Burrell playing key role in Bulldogs’ resurgence
Junior quarterback Brian Burrell was benched for redshirt freshman Zack Greenlee Nov. 1 against Wyoming. But since then, he has found some consistency. Burrell had played a pivotal role in the Bulldogs’ latest three wins, averaging 225.6 passing yards per game and accounting for nine touchdowns in the span.
“I think each week he’s getting better and more confident,” DeRuyter said. “He’s throwing on time and our offense is playing fast when he does that. Those are things that he’s capable of, and we’re seeing much more from him. We’re still not 100 percent there, and he knows that. That’s why we go out and practice to try to get there. The fact that he has really improved his game is why we’re in this game today.”
Burrell is 3-0 since being benched, all of those three wins coming in virtually must-win games to keep Fresno State in contention for a third-straight league title.
“We’re definitely lucky to be in the situation we are,” Burrell said. “With that being said, we’re going to make the most of this opportunity.”
The ‘Dogs’ 12-game 2014 season saw a three-loss, three-win pattern that ended with the team at .500 with a 6-6 record.
“We had a really strange journey to get here,” DeRuyter said. “It’s nothing we would have ever scripted, but our guys have known all along that this is the goal: get in this game and then hopefully finish and win this game.”
Saturday’s Sports Authority Mountain West Championship game kicks off at 7 p.m and will be televised nationally on CBS.