No. 14 Boise St. 45, Fresno St. 21
BOISE, Idaho (AP)—Jared Zabransky, Ian Johnson and the undefeated Boise State Broncos put on quite a show for the bowl representatives at Bronco Stadium.
With Zabransky’s efficient passing and Johnson’s nose for the end zone, the No. 14 Broncos dominated Fresno State 45-21 on a national stage Wednesday night.
Zabransky managed the Broncos’ potent offense, matching a season high with three touchdowns passes, and Johnson increased his TD total to 20—tops in the country.
With representatives from the Fiesta, Sugar and Orange bowls in attendance, the Broncos (9-0, 5-0 WAC) were overpowering for three quarters, then Johnson finished off the Bulldogs (1-7, 1-3) with an impressive final drive.
“We know these are statement games,” Johnson said. “We don’t prepare any different, but we have those little things in the back of our minds that say ‘hey, we’ve got to make a statement. This is a big time thing.”’
The Broncos were ranked 14th in this week’s BCS standings, and need to finish in the top 12 of the final poll to become the second team from a non-BCS conference to land a berth in one of the big-money bowl games.
“We know what we need to focus on and that’s taking it one game at a time,” Zabransky said. “If we do that we know the BCS thing will come.”
Overshadowed much of the season by Johnson—the national leader in touchdowns—Zabransky directed the Broncos to scores on three consecutive possessions in the first half. He also led scoring drives the first two times Boise State had the ball in the second half.
Take away a kneel-down on the last play of the first half, and Boise State reached the end zone on five straight possessions, outscoring Fresno State 35-0 during the stretch. Zabransky completed 19 of 25 passes for 180 yards and added another 57 yards rushing.
“We’ve got to continually stay on him about running the football,” coach Chris Petersen said. “He’s such a fast runner, that I think he thinks he’s going to get more credit for throwing the ball instead of running it. But it’s very tough on defenses when he takes off and runs.”
It also opens up more opportunities for Johnson. Contained to mostly 5- and 6-yard gains, Johnson busted a 32-yard run down to the Fresno State 2 midway through the fourth quarter, carrying defenders the final 10 yards. He capped the drive with a 2-yard plunge, his 20th touchdown of the season.
Johnson also scored from 3 yards in the second quarter and had 24 carries.
“We knew eventually they would break and we would break a long one,” Johnson said. “It took until the fourth quarter but we got it.”
Fresno State lost its seventh straight since opening the season with a 28-19 win over Nevada. It’s the first time the Bulldogs have lost seven straight in one season since 1929.
Coach Pat Hill lauded Boise State afterward, and challenged his team to close the season strong, even with a bowl berth now out of the picture. The Bulldogs lost their last four games of 2005.
“We’ve got to start grinding and getting better,” Hill said. “We’ve got four games to go and I told them we’re going to win those next four games. That’s what I expect.”
Zabransky first TD pass was a perfect 28-yard strike on the run to Drisan James on the last play of the first quarter. He added an 8-yard pass to Vinny Perretta and a 4-yard TD to Jerard Rabb, who left cornerback Marcus McCauley standing at the line of scrimmage.
“Momentum shifts are huge,” Zabransky said. “When you can carry the momentum throughout a football game, tendency is your going to win. … Our team played extremely well.”
Fresno State’s offense never got on track with sophomore quarterback Sean Newton making his second career start. The Bulldogs were outgained 138-12 in the first quarter and 248-62 in the first half.
Fresno State finally broke Boise State’s scoring run when backup Tom Brandstater threw a 20-yard TD to Joe Fernandez late in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs pulled to 38-21 with 14:02 left when Damon Jenkins intercepted Zabranksky’s pass and returned it 56 yards for a score. It was the first interception of the season for Fresno State, the last team in Division I-A without one.
Chastin West returned a kickoff 93 yards in the first quarter to give Fresno State a 7-3 lead.