FRESNO, Calif. (AP)—Pat Hill seemed to be in a happy daze, fidgeting with his hat and mumbling to his jubilant players. Tears welled in Garrett McIntyre’s eyes, and Paul Williams couldn’t hold still or stop smiling.
Dozens of players and coaches on Fresno State’s sideline had waited through four years of failure and frustration for this breakthrough victory over Boise State—and when it finally arrived Thursday night, the only common theme in their reactions was sweet relief.
Paul Pinegar passed for 307 yards and hit Williams for two long touchdowns, and the 20th-ranked Bulldogs beat Boise State 27-7, decisively snapping the Broncos’ 31-game Western Athletic Conference winning streak.
Williams, who broke open the game with a 98-yard reception for a score, took a late moment to survey the sideline scene at soaked Bulldog Stadium. His hard-nosed coach could barely believe it, while tough linemen sniffled.
“I really didn’t know it would feel this emotional,” said Williams, whose second TD catch was the longest in school history. “Everybody was excited, especially these seniors. They went four years without beating these guys, but we made up for everything tonight.”
Wendell Mathis ran for 121 yards and a score as Fresno State (8-1, 6-0 WAC) got its first victory over the three-time defending league champions since Boise State joined the conference in 2001 and promptly began the longest perfect run in WAC history.
“It was great to give them a taste of how it feels when you’re that close to the WAC championship and you just get run over by another team,” said Pinegar, who became Fresno State’s career leader in touchdown passes while going 22-of-36.
The Bulldogs’ blowout win was years in the making: They controlled the ball for more than 40 minutes, racked up 513 yards and shut out Boise State (7-3, 5-1) after Jeff Carpenter’s 67-yard TD run in the opening seconds.
Fresno State won for the 14th time in 15 games since losing to the Broncos last season. The sellout crowd, which cheered through a steady rain for the first three quarters, roared when Hill and Broncos coach Dan Hawkins hugged at midfield after a scoreless second half.
“There’s a side of me that goes out to him, because I know he’s got to answer that question (about beating Boise State), and I know that’s not fun,” Hawkins said. “We don’t get into (the streak). We never talk about that. That’s not part of what we do at all.”
Jared Zabransky was 15-of-32 for 190 yards with two interceptions for Boise State, which finally ran out of offensive ingenuity after winning every WAC game since a loss to Louisiana Tech on Nov. 3, 2001. Boise State had its lowest-scoring game since the 1991 season opener.
“They’re a good football program, but for the first time, I thought we were able to bring our ‘A’ game against them,” said Hill, who planned to wait at least one day before thinking about next weekend’s nothing-to-lose trip to face top-ranked USC.
Boise State lost just two of its first 37 games in league play, but Zabransky’s error-prone unit never resembled the sublime offensive teams of past years in this cold, unfriendly field.
The schools have dominated the WAC since Boise State joined, going a combined 64-12. Though two tough conference games remain for a school accustomed to midseason letdowns, Fresno State finally is in prime position for its first outright WAC title in Hill’s tenure.
Hill made no attempt to minimize the meeting’s importance, calling it the biggest game at Bulldog Stadium in his nine seasons. Hill has been haunted by Boise State since 2001, when the Broncos beat then-No. 8 Fresno State 35-30 to end the Bulldogs’ unbeaten season and Bowl Championship Series aspirations.
That simmering anxiety might have been one reason Carpenter turned a simple trap play into a 67-yard score on the second play from scrimmage, just 47 seconds after the opening kickoff. But Fresno State calmly replied with a 74-yard scoring drive, ending in Mathis’ 15-yard TD run.
In previous years, the schools’ quarterbacks decided the series: Pinegar and predecessor David Carr struggled against Boise State, while Zabransky and former star Ryan Dinwiddie carved up Fresno State’s defenses.
This time, Pinegar excelled. With a smooth 29-yard TD pass to Williams on the first play of the second quarter, Pinegar passed Carr’s career record with his 71st scoring pass at Fresno State.
“We knew it was up to (Pinegar) if they were going to beat us,” Broncos linebacker Korey Hall said. “He was going to have to do it. … Any time you lose a game, whether it’s Georgia or Fresno State, it’s tough on us and we’ve got to bounce back.”
The game turned on Williams’ electric 98-yard score midway through the second quarter. He came back to catch an underthrown pass from Pinegar, shaking off a defender who committed pass interference, then stiff-armed and eventually flung safety Marty Tadman to the ground during the long run to his second score.