Fresno State wide receiver Josh Harper sprints after receiving a pass at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho, during the ‘Dogs’ 28-14 loss to the Broncos on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of NCAA Photos)
The Fresno State Bulldogs fell short of a third consecutive Mountain West Championship Saturday night to No. 22 Boise State at Albertsons Stadium 28-14.
Toward the end, Fresno State junior quarterback Brian Burrell provided hope, converting third downs to keep the Bulldogs in the game late. But the ‘Dogs’ offensive struggles and turnovers earlier in the game proved to be too costly down the stretch.
“I was extremely proud of our guys and the way we battled,” head coach Tim DeRuyter said. “This was really indicative of how our guys battled all year long. We were down big, but our guys didn’t care. We kept fighting, and we kept believing. We gave ourselves some opportunities at the end to get back in the game, but give Boise State credit, they made the final plays to finish the game off.”
Boise State’s ninth-ranked offense got off to a quick start, executing a 46-yard pass play to wideout Chaz Anderson on its opening drive to help set up a 20-yard touchdown run by quarterback Grant Hedrick.
Fresno State quarterback Brian Burrell threw two interceptions in the opening quarter. One was returned 63 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Tanner Vallejo to give the Broncos the two-score advantage.
Towards the end of the first period, Burrell connected with Josh Harper for 52-yard gain that would set them up in the red zone. But the Bulldogs failed to generate any points off the big play, as freshman kicker Kody Kroening’s 35-yard field-goal was blocked by defensive lineman Armand Nance to keep the ‘Dogs scoreless.
The block gave the Broncos the ball back, and all-conference running back Jay Ajayi would go on to run it in from nine yards out for the 21-0 advantage.
Fresno State’s defense held Ajayi to 70 rushing yards on 22 carries.
On its opening drive of the second, the Boise State offense continued to roll behind Hedrick, as he would make a 41-yard connection with Jeremy McNichols to the Fresno State 27-yard line. Hedrick would cap the drive with his second rushing touchdown of the game, this time from 21 yards out.
The Bulldogs’ offense answered early in the third period, engineering a 19-play, 96-yard drive that took just over eight minutes off the clock and resulted in a two-yard score by junior back Josh Quezada.
Things got interesting midway through the fourth quarter, when Burrell hit Greg Watson on a corner route for the 25-yard touchdown to cut the Broncos lead to 14.
The Bulldogs followed the touchdown with a successful onside-kick attempt recovered by Charles Washington to keep the ‘Dogs alive.
Hopes of a comeback fell short for Fresno State when defensive end Beau Martin picked off Burrell on the drive to seal the title for the Broncos.
Burrell completed 30-of-45 passes for 332 yards and a score.
Hedrick finished with 155 passing yards and a game-high 81 rushing yards and two scores en route to being named offensive MVP of the game.
“Every time you get it in the red zone, you have to capitalize,” Harper said. “Especially against a team like Boise State. Not capitalizing on our drives hurt us really bad.”