If Monday night's opener against Virginia Tech was indeed a true "one-game season" for No. 3 Boise State, the Broncos did everything they could to prove they belong in the national championship discussion with a thrilling 33-30 victory.
For Virginia Tech, the hand-wringing about special teams, running game and defensive shortcomings is just beginning not to mention the finger-crossing that it'll get some help to improve its own title hopes. It's an uphill climb from here.
Even when it appeared No. 10 Virginia Tech could do nothing to lose its grip in FedExField on just its second win against a top-five team in 19 tries under coach Frank Beamer, Boise State managed to ruin the party. A dramatic 13-yard touchdown pass from Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Kellen Moore, who completed 23 of 38 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns in the game, to wide receiver Austin Pettis crushed Tech (0-1) in one of its most anticipated openers.
With Tech clinging to a 30-26 lead, Boise State (1-0) took over at its own 44-yard line with 1:47 left after a 25-yard punt return by Mitch Burroughs one of several Tech special teams gaffes. On the punt return, a flag was thrown for what initially appeared to be a clipping penalty on Boise State's Jeremy Avery, but the flag was picked up and no penalty was called.
"You're talking about a big penalty now," said Beamer, whose only win against a top-five team remains a 31-7 win in 2003 against No. 2 Miami. "(It's) not only where (Boise State) gained the yardage, it's where the penalty would've taken them back. You're talking about like probably a 40 or 35-yard penalty."
After the punt return, Boise State faced second-and-5 from Tech's 40. Moore hit Pettis with a 14-yard pass and Boise State got 13 yards tacked on to the end of the play when linebacker Bruce Taylor was flagged for a late hit on Pettis on the sideline.
Two plays after the catch and penalty, Pettis broke free in the end zone behind linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow for a 13-yard touchdown catch with 1:09 left. Boise State, which finished with 383 yards, made the lead stand up by forcing Tech to turn the ball over on downs on its final possession.
"We got the ball in good field position and thought we'd do something with it," said Boise State coach Chris Petersen about his team's final scoring drive. "We've practiced that so often and I thought our coaching staff did a fabulous job. They were very calm and the kids executed the plays like clockwork. Practicing against our defense is extremely competitive, and it felt a lot like that tonight."
It was a demoralizing way for Tech to cap off what looked to be a possible hard-fought win. Tech, which amassed 314 yards, bounced back from a 17-point deficit in the first quarter. It matched the largest first-quarter deficit for Tech since 1992, when Miami led 17-0 after the opening stanza of a 43-23 Hurricanes win.
In the fourth quarter, Tech looked like it was going to have everything go its way down the stretch a la last season's 16-15 victory against Nebraska before Boise State's late recovery.
After Boise State's Ebenezer Makinde bailed out Tech by running into kicker Chris Hazley on what would've been a missed 51-yard field goal attempt on fourth-and-10 with 2:47 remaining in the game, quarterback Tyrod Taylor went to work.
He fired a pass on fourth-and-5 to wide receiver Jarrett Boykin, just inches away from cornerback Brandyn Thompson's grasp. Boykin made the catch and turned it upfield for a 28-yard touchdown, putting Tech ahead to stay 27-26 with 2:40 left in the quarter.
Taylor, a Hampton High graduate, finished the game 15 of 22 passing for 186 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 73 yards on 16 carries. His running was the highlight of what was an otherwise lackluster rushing night for the Hokies, who got a combined 58 yards on 25 carries from Ryan Williams, Darren Evans and David Wilson. Williams had 21 carries for 44 yards.
Tech got off to a dismal start on the opening drive of the game, as Taylor fumbled the ball away on the second play at Tech's 31-yard line. Boise State had to settle for Kyle Brotzman's 44-yard field goal with 12:44 left in the quarter.
Tech's special teams got into the ineptitude act on the Hokies' second drive. Brian Saunders had the first punt of his career blocked by Pettis, giving Boise State possession at Tech's 12. Two plays later, Moore spotted Pettis alone in the end zone on an 8-yard touchdown connection with 9:48 left, extending the Broncos' lead to 10-0.
Later in the quarter, D.J. Coles compounded Tech's special teams troubles. Brotzman lined up to punt the ball away on fourth-and-1from Boise State's 48, but Coles ran into Brotzman to draw a 5-yard penalty. Before the play was over, Coles also picked up a 15-yard personal foul, moving Boise State to Tech's 32.
Boise State took advantage of Coles' brain cramps. Moore capped Boise State's next drive by finding tight end Tommy Gallarda, who made a diving 2-yard touchdown grab with 1:04 left in the quarter to put the Broncos ahead 17-0.
Taylor finally helped Tech get its offense in gear early in the second quarter. He converted a third-and-8 with a 9-yard scramble to Tech's 44. Then, on second-and-20 from Boise State's 35, he hit Boykin on a 34-yard pass play. Ryan Williams took it into the end zone on a 1-yard run two plays later to cut Boise State's lead to 17-7 with 11:44 remaining in the half.
Free safety Eddie Whitley helped further swing momentum with 3:18 left when he ripped the ball loose from Boise State running back Doug Martin's hands on a third-and-2 run from Boise State's 28. Linebacker Lyndell Gibson recovered the ball at Boise State's 39.
Tech capitalized on the turnover when Taylor finished a five-play drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Williams. It was Williams' second touchdown reception of his career and helped the Hokies close the gap to 20-14 with 57 seconds left.
Moore proceeded to put Tech within reach of taking the lead for the first time in the third quarter when he fumbled the ball away with 9:49 remaining.
As he wound up on a pass attempt from his own 41, his left arm hit offensive lineman Nate Potter, which forced a fumble defensive end J.R. Collins recovered at Boise State's 31. Tech made Boise State pay when Williams scored on a 1-yard run, providing the Hokies with their first lead at 21-20 with 6:34 left in the quarter.
Thanks to some poor tackling by the Hokies, their initial lead was short-lived. On Boise State's next drive, running back D.J. Harper took a third-and-1 carry 71 yards for a touchdown with 5:38 remaining in the quarter to put the Broncos up 26-21. Harper broke an attempted tackle by Bruce Taylor in the backfield, and escaped Gibson just past the line of scrimmage.
"It's disappointing," said Beamer regarding Monday's outcome. "I know we've got work to do. We've got work to do in our coverage there at the end. We fouled that up a couple times. We'll learn from it and get better. It's a tough deal because the kids fought awfully hard to come back and we just didn't finish it off."