Boise State rides arm of Rypien to Las Vegas Bowl win
LAS VEGAS — In a town known for holding championship fights, the Boise State Broncos got knocked to the canvas not once but twice in the final 37 seconds of the first half of Saturday afternoon’s Las Vegas Bowl.
Despite totally dominating the game statistically, the 25th-ranked Broncos led by only 10 points at halftime after Oregon (7-6) delivered a potentially devastating one-two punch that saw Troy Dye return a Brett Rypien fumble 86 yards for a touchdown and then safety Tyree Robinson race 100 yards for another score after picking off a Rypien pass in the end zone.
But the Mountain West champion Broncos picked themselves off the canvas and scored on the opening drive of the second half and then held off a late Ducks rally for a 38-28 victory at Sam Boyd Stadium, spoiling the Oregon head coach debut of Mario Cristobal in the process.
Rypien passed for 362 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Wide receiver Cedrick Wilson, despite limping at times with a sore ankle, picked up the Rich Abajian Most Valuable Player after catching 10 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown as the Broncos improved to 3-0 all time against their Pacific Northwest rivals from the Pac-12.
“New slate,” Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch said when asked what was discussed in the locker room at halftime. “It’s a whole different half (going back out). We gave up a couple touchdowns before halftime, but nobody was playing the blame game. We just went back at it like it was 0-0.”
The Broncos then took the second-half kickoff and put together arguably their most impressive drive of the game, chewing up over five minutes of the clock while driving 75 yards in 12 plays. Rypien, who completed 21 of 38 passes, hit tight end Alec Dhaenens for a 13-yard touchdown to increase Boise State’s lead to 31-14 and restore order.
Boise State finished with 473 total yards and 28 first downs. Oregon ended up with 233 yards, including just 47 yards rushing, and 14 first downs.
The Broncos’ defense held Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert (26 of 36, 233 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions) in check for most of the game.
Midway through the third quarter, the Ducks, who lost head coach Willie Taggart to Florida State two days after accepting the Las Vegas Bowl bid, had just 77 yards in total offense and as many turnovers (four) as first downs (four). One of those turnovers was an interception that was returned 53 yards for a touchdown by safety Kekaula Kaniho.
“We shot ourselves in the foot a bunch tonight,” Cristobal said. “A lot of tears and very emotional in that locker room because we certainly thought that we had prepared well, and guys the entire year fought hard and trusted each other and did a great job of getting us to this point right here.”
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said, “I thought our defense was dominant. We spotted them a couple of touchdowns or the score could have been a lot different.”
After Rypien’s touchdown pass to Dhaenens, Oregon closed within 31-21 on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Herbert to Brandon Schooler midway through the fourth quarter. But Boise State sealed the win with an 11-play, 86-yard drive capped by a 1-yard run by former walk-on Ryan Wolpin with 2:22 left.
Oregon added an 8-yard touchdown pass from Herbert to freshman wide receiver Jaylon Redd with 1:12 left to cut the deficit 38-28, but Wilson recovered the ensuing onside kick and the Broncos then ran out the clock.
“This team has no quit in it,” Cristobal said. “I think a lot of teams fold their tent when they’re down 24-0 and things don’t go their way.
“You look at the way they kept fighting and scratching and clawing to make this thing a competitive game, to me that’s the positive (from the game).”
NOTES: Oregon RB Royce Freeman, ranked the sixth best running back and 45th overall for the 2018 NFL Draft by NFLDraftscout.com, sat out the game despite taking part in some bowl practices and playing in the team’s final two games of the season so as not to risk injury in the game. “This is hard for him now,” Ducks coach Mario Cristobal told Oregonlive.com. “I mean, this is not easy for an easy thing for a guy like that that’s invested his heart and soul into the program. We all know the story that goes with that. It’s difficult for him.” The 6-foot, 238-pound Freeman finishes his career as the Pac-12’s career rushing leader with 5,621 yards, including 1,506 yards on 244 carries (6.0 avg.) and 16 TDs this season. ... Freeman’s teammate, senior OT Tyrell Crosby, who is ranked 65th by NFLDraftscout.com and considered a potential first-round pick, decided to play in the game and switched his uniform number from 73 to 58 to honor the 58 victims who were killed in the Oct. 1 mass shooting across the Strip from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Crosby played high school football at Green Valley in Henderson, about a 10-minute drive from Sam Boyd Stadium.