FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The hardest thing Jaylon Henderson did Friday afternoon might have had nothing to do with football.
Boise State’s senior quarterback had to figure out how to climb a five-foot snow bank so he could hug his parents.
Henderson succeeded, enjoying another moment in a growing list of things he won’t soon forget. Boise State’s third-string quarterback started and won his third straight game as the Broncos escaped a cold, and eventually snowy Fort Collins, with a 31-24 win at Colorado State.
With the win, Boise State finished unbeaten in Mountain West play (8-0) for the first time, and ended with an 11-1 regular season record for the first time since some guy named Kellen Moore was the quarterback in 2011.
“Very proud of them because they’ve accomplished something that’s pretty special,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “It’s not all over and we know that, but as far as the regular season to be able to do what they did in conference. ... That says a lot about the leadership of this team and the mindset of this team.
“They really wanted to win. This was something that was important to them and trying to do something that other teams in the Mountain West at Boise State hadn’t done, so they are proud of that.”
Boise State will host Hawaii at 2 p.m. on Dec. 7 in the Mountain West Championship. A win guarantees the Broncos no worse than the Las Vegas Bowl against a Pac-12 team (possibly 6-6 Washington State). Should Memphis lose to Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference title game, the Broncos would have a shot at landing in the Cotton Bowl.
The high stakes looming on the horizon could have been a reason for the Broncos not playing their best game of the season. Or it could have been the weather and small crowd. Nearly 15 inches of snow fell earlier in the week, which kept many fans away.
The upper deck wasn’t even opened, and fans on Boise State’s sidelined were confined to five sections on the lower level at the center of the field. Temperatures were in the upper 20s throughout the game.
Boise State led 24-14 at the half but couldn’t pull away. Colorado State eventually had the ball near midfield late in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie the game, but a David Moa sack stopped Colorado State’s comeback attempt.
“It was pretty cold out there on the field, but our guys know that and that part we actually embraced and I don’t think it affected us,” Harsin said. “We did things that hurt ourselves in this game that we haven’t done in the last few games.”
Henderson completed 26 of 36 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Garrett Collingham caught one of the touchdown passes, and also ran in a 2-yard touchdown.
Khalil Shakir had seven catches for 103 yards, while CT Thomas had five catches for 53 yards and a touchdown.
Boise State’s rushing game struggled and finished tied for a season low with just 91 yards on 37 carries. George Holani needed 130 yards to reach 1,000 for the season, but finished with just 42 yards on 18 carries.
But the Broncos got a few huge plays from the defense, including interceptions from Tyreque Jones and Curtis Weaver, and the fourth-quarter sack from Moa to win for the fifth straight time since their lone loss, a 28-25 setback to BYU in October.
“We feel like we’re built for clutch situations,” Weaver said. “We feel confident in ourselves and we knew if we did our thing we’d stop them. ... We wanted to put ourselves in our own legacy in Boise State history. The past Boise State teams always had something they had, so we wanted something. Today we wrote history.”
Colorado State scored first on a 3-yard run from Jaylen Thomas to cap a nice 9-play, 75-yard drive on the opening possession.
The Broncos responded with a 17-play, 73-yard drive that took 8:32 off the clock. The scoring play was a 2-yard touchdown run from Collingham, who rolled out and nearly threw a pass on a trick play before seeing an opening to just run it into the end zone.
Jones’ first career interception set the Broncos up at the Colorado State 20-yard line, and the offense cashed in on a 5-yard pass from Henderson to Thomas on the first play of the second quarter to make it 14-7.
Colorado State evened the score at 14 on a 16-yard pass from Patrick O’Brien to Warren Jackson midway through the second quarter before the Broncos went back to work.
Collingham reached the end zone again, this time on a 3-yard pass from Henderson, to put the Broncos in front 21-14 with 1:16 left in the half. The Broncos chewed up another 7:25 on the drive, which went for 14 plays and 79 yards.
Weaver came up with Boise State’s second turnover of the half when he tipped a pass from O’Brien and caught it himself. The Broncos took over at the Colorado State 26 with under a minute left in the half, and got a 39-yard field goal from Eric Sachse with 18 seconds left to lead 24-14 at the break.
Boise State’s offense stalled in the third quarter and Colorado State took advantage, scoring on a 28-yard pass from O’Brien to tight end Trey McBride to pull within 24-21 with 3:49 left in the third.
The Rams had a chance to take the lead, but Boise State’s defense forced a punt, and Henderson scored on a 1-yard rush to make it a two-score game at 31-21 early in the fourth quarter.
Henderson was the 11th different player with a rushing touchdown for the Broncos, their most in a season since 2004.
Colorado State made it 31-24 with a field goal from Braxton Davis midway through the fourth quarter, and the Rams had the ball across midfield with about three minutes remaining when Boise State’s defense came up with the game-clinching stop.
Moa sacked O’Brien for a 9-yard loss that put the Rams back at the 45, and forced them to punt with about two minutes remaining and all three timeouts. Boise State’s offense did the rest, getting a first down to run out the clock.
“That was a huge play by David,” Harsin said. “If they don’t have that negative play, they are going to go for it on fourth down. We put them in a really tough spot.”
It wasn’t Boise State’s perfect game. It wasn’t even close. But the Broncos did just enough to return home with a historic win — and a Mountain West title game to prepare for.
“To be able to accomplish that tonight against a good team like that was something special,” safety Kekoa Nawahine said. “The whole time during the game we were talking to each other ‘leave your legacy’ and ‘leave a mark’ like the great teams in the past at Boise State have done. To be able to do something like that is amazing.”