BOISE — Boise State’s offense could only rescue its defense so many times.
With the Broncos needing just one stop, they were unable to find any late in the game.
BYU scored touchdowns on each of its final three offensive drive, helping the Cougars beat Boise State 31-28 on Saturday.
Puka Nacua caught BYU’s final touchdown pass, for 6 yards, with under two minutes remaining, providing the Cougars with the winning score.
“That’s what we live on on defense, the razor’s edge, it can all come down to one play,” said Boise State safety JL Skinner. “Credit to (Nacua), he made a great play. (Caleb Biggers) was in great position. That’s what we have to live with as a defense, plays you have to live with, plays you have to learn from and that’s what we sign up for when we come here. We should never have been in that situation anyway.”
Each of the final three touchdowns for BYU were go-ahead scores, as Nacua’s 24-yard reception late in the third quarter gave the Cougars a 17-14 lead, a 48-yard touchdown by Hinkley Ropati off a screen pass made it 24-21, then Nacua’s second touchdown providing the final score.
BYU gained 222 of its 532 total yards of offense on those final three drives.
“The vertical down field pass game, early on we were doing a good job handling those things,” said Boise State coach Andy Avalos. “What comes with that is we didn’t handle the quarterback run game, we didn’t tackle well on the quarterback draws. For the most part, handling those vertical shots and deep routes, they went to the screen pass off of that. Ultimately that comes down to us, it starts with me, making sure we’re putting those guys in better position. But we tip our hat to them, they mixed it up and complimented some things they were doing.”
BRONCOS MAKE GOAL LINE STAND AT THE END OF FIRST HALF
Had Boise State won the game, a defensive stand at the end of the first half might have been one of the more talked about plays.
With the game tied at 7-7, Boise State stuffed BYU run from the 1-yard line, keeping the game tied going into the break.
“We were just locked into our keys,” Skinner said about the play. “We played good in those moments, and just gave us a little energy boost getting the stop in that moment. That was a good moment of the game for us, turned around the game for us and made it a little more competitive.”
BYU recovered a fumble by Boise State quarterback Taylen Green with 14 seconds left on the clock, as Blake Mangelson recovered the ball at the Boise State 10. A 9-yard pass to Nacua got the Cougars down to the one, with one second left on the clock.
Both teams called a combined four timeouts before BYU was able to get off the play. Quarterback Jalen Hall handed the ball off to Lopini Katoa, who was wrapped up first by Ezekiel Noa and stopped short of the end zone. A review upheld the play.
“The cool part about it was they were the ones with the banter, they know what it is,” Avalos said about his players’ mindsets going into that play. “It never maters the circumstances, whether we’re training, we’re practicing, we’re on the 1-yard line with one second left in the half and they’re going for it, the circumstances never matter.”
MCALISTER GETS FIRST CAREER TD CATCH
Redshirt freshman Eric McAlister caught the first touchdown pass of his Boise State career, hauling in a 9-yard pass from Green in the end zone on the first drive of the second half. The catch gave Boise State a 14-7 lead, its first lead of the game.
It was his first catch of the game for McAlister and the third straight game in which had had a reception.
“We’re excited about where he’s growing, he’s just got to keep on with it,” Avalos said. “It’s about being consistent, keeping on with it every day. It’s not just about running those routes, it’s about the process making sure we’re continuing to grow and we’re learning more. ... He’s growing at that stuff and being able to handle the full plan. We’re excited about where he can go, what his ceiling is and we just want to keep seeing him do well.”
McAlister had another catch in the fourth quarter, a 24-yard reception that set up an 11-yard George Holani touchdown run.
“E-Mac comes in every day and we know he’s a deep ball threat,” said Boise State wide receiver Latrell Caples. “Every team knows it, it’s just a matter of can they stop it, and they can’t yet. We’re going to keep trying and keep throwing it to him, because he’s reliable.”
DOOLEY SEES FIELD AT TIGHT END
Ben Dooley got his first action of the season Saturday, just not in the role many expected to see him in.
Dooley, who was expected to be a starting guard for the Broncos this season, came in during the first half, not on the offensive line, but instead at tight end. He was wearing a No. 95 jersey rather than his usual No. 66.
Dooley missed the Broncos’ first eight games of the season after suffering what Avalos referred to as a “very unfortunate infection” early in fall camp.
“We’re just happy that he’s back healthy,” Avalos said. “He’s been out there playing ball the last couple of weeks, getting himself in shape and this is the first week he could get in the game and play a few snaps. We’ll continue to get him in shape as we move forward. That’s awesome to see him out there.”
Avalos also left open the possibility that the move to tight end could last past Saturday’s game.
“He wants to catch the ball a little, so we might keep him there and throw him the rock a little,” Avalos said.