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Boise State beats Nevada for share of Mountain West title

The SportsXchange

RENO, Nev. -- No. 20 Boise State entered Saturday with a clear path to a Mountain West championship and a cloudy path to the Bowl Championship Series.

The Broncos took care of the former with a 27-21 victory over Nevada at Mackay Stadium and must wait 24 hours to see where they fall in the final BCS standings. They need to reach the top 16 and finish ahead of Northern Illinois to earn an automatic berth.

The Broncos (10-2, 7-1 Mountain West) shared the conference title with Fresno State and San Diego State. It was their 11th conference title in 14 years and seventh straight 10-win season, covering coach Chris Petersen's entire tenure.

The Broncos led 17-0 at halftime but needed to recover an onside kick late in the fourth quarter to preserve the win. It was their fifth game decided by six points or less this season; they are 3-2 in those games.

"In some ways, it's been a struggle," Petersen said, "but it's probably kind of the normal path most teams take. Those guys we've had in the past who had played so many games for us at such a high level, it felt like it was hard, but a lot of times it wasn't.

"One thing I think is good about these guys is it didn't always seem like it to people in the stands, but we were getting better each week and they were working their tails off."

The Broncos won this title with dominant defense and a rebuilt offense that hadn't delivered in a big-game setting until Saturday, when they scored on three of four first-half drives to set the tone. The group also took 4 minutes, 55 seconds off the clock in the fourth quarter -- a drive that led to a field goal.

"It shows how resilient of guys we have in that (locker) room -- resilient guys, fighters -- and that's how we've had to go about ourselves all year, and it showed up today," said sophomore wide receiver Matt Miller, who had seven catches for a career-high 127 yards and a touchdown. "I'm just really proud of my teammates at how they fought today."

Nevada scrapped, too -- continuing a trend that started in 2007 with these two teams. Boise State jumps out to big leads and Nevada charges hard in the second half.

The Wolf Pack generated just 90 yards in the first half but produced 340 in the second half.

"It's another tale-of-two-halves-type game, and we just needed a little more time on the clock," Nevada offensive lineman Jeff Nady said.

The teams traded touchdowns early in the second half. Nevada scored on its opening drive, a 1-yard run by Stefphon Jefferson, and Boise State countered with a 52-yard pass from quarterback Joe Southwick to Miller. That made it 24-7 with 10:52 left in the third.

The Wolf Pack was marching again on the next drive when tight end Zach Sudfeld fumbled at the goal line; linebacker Blake Renaud poked the ball out and linebacker J.C. Percy recovered in the end zone.

"That was a big, big play," Boise State cornerback Jamar Taylor said.

The Wolf Pack pulled within 24-14 with 8:26 left on another TD run by Jefferson. The Broncos answered with the long field goal drive that made it 27-14 and left the Wolf Pack little time to complete a comeback.

"You've got to stop those swings of momentum," Miller said, "and I think we did a really good job."

The Broncos built their first-half lead with a strong running game and the school-record seventh first-half shutout of the season. Senior tailback D.J. Harper rushed for 83 of his 130 yards in the first half.

On Boise State's second possession, Harper gained 49 yards on four carries to lead a touchdown drive. Included were a 31-yard burst on third-and-2 and a broken tackle near the line of scrimmage.

Southwick capitalized by shifting in the pocket to buy time and throwing a 17-yard touchdown pass to wide-open senior wide receiver Chris Potter with 6:12 left in the first quarter.

The Broncos' next possession featured more of the same. Harper gained 16 yards on three carries to start the drive and Southwick scrambled for six yards on third-and-6.

On third-and-5 at the Nevada 39, backup quarterback Grant Hedrick entered the game in the Wildcat. He pitched to Harper on the option for six yards on third-and-5, caught a 20-yard pass from Potter and handed to freshman wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes, who broke a tackle in the backfield on an 11-yard run.

Harper finished the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run and it was 14-0 with 13:54 left in the first half.

The Broncos' fourth drive was impressive, too. They took over at their 14 and marched to the Wolf Pack 3-yard line before settling for Frisina's 20-yard field goal to go up 17-0.

NOTES: Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who formerly held the same job at Boise State, attended the game to see his coaching friends and former players. Pease coached at Boise State from 2006 to 2011. ... Boise State senior starting nickel Dextrell Simmons (hamstring) didn't make the trip. He missed most of the previous three games. ... Boise State true freshman cornerback Donte Deayon made his first start in place of senior Jerrell Gavins, who did get into the game. ... Harper went over 1,000 yards rushing this season in the first half. ... The Broncos ran the Statue of Liberty play, which they made famous in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, in the first half. The play gained seven yards this time. ... Nevada was shut out in the first half for the first time this season. The Wolf Pack had scored at least 10 points in the first half and 30 points total in every previous game this season.
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