Football - Boise State Vs. Troy

Boise State tight end Jake Roh (88) celebrates a touchdown with Boise State quarterback Montell Cozart (3) Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, at Albertsons Stadium in Boise.

DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS

BOISE — What was a question mark was turned into an exclamation point.

What seemed like a clear known is now hazy like the Boise air Saturday afternoon.

No longer is a rout guaranteed on the Blue, but what is certain is a spike in the blood pressure of the Bronco faithful.

Boise State’s 24-13 win over Troy at Albertsons Stadium was the new normal — expect the unexpected. And like many season openers, there were plenty of surprises.

Areas in which Boise State struggled last season were its strongest suits, from special teams to an aggressive defense. A tight end even scored a touchdown.

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Football - Boise State Vs. Troy

Boise State quarterback Montell Cozart (3) carries the ball against Troy Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, at Albertsons Stadium in Boise.

DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS

When the Trojans threatened to make it a down-to-the-wire game that was so common here last year, the Broncos toughened up.

“I’ll say this about this team — we responded,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “That was the goal. When adversity hit, which it did, were we going to respond? ... Guys stepped up, guys made plays.”

No play was more of a game-changer than one that encapsulated all the Broncos had hoped to be this season on the defensive side of the ball.

With Troy trailing 17-10 late in the third quarter and 15 plays into a drive that had taken the Trojans down to the Boise State 18-yard line, it looked like Boise State sophomore cornerback Reid Harrison-Ducros would take a Brandon Silvers pass for a pick-six.

Instead, the ball popped out of his hands and up to receiver Deondre Douglas, who raced toward the end zone. Boise State redshirt freshman linebacker Desmond Williams didn’t assume the ball had been intercepted and gave chase, knocking the ball out of Douglas’ hands into the end zone. The fumble turned what could have been the tying score into Boise State getting possession at its own 20.

“You talk about clutch, there’s not much more clutch than on the 1-yard line, punching it out to get a touchback,” sophomore nose tackle Sonatane Lui said.

On a teaching tape to show the value of defensive pursuit, “that will probably be around for the next 10, 12 years on there,” Harsin said.

Boise State forced two more turnovers in the fourth quarter, a far cry from last season’s school record-low nine forced turnovers. With a defense that didn’t start a single senior against an offense that returned a senior in Silvers and 98.7 percent of its production from last season, holding the Trojans without a touchdown was mighty impressive.

“We did really well with composure, when they made big plays and had big drives, we held them out of the end zone,” said sophomore safety Kekoa Nawahine, who had an interception that set up the final score.

After Nawahine’s interception at midfield, senior quarterback Montell Cozart’s 7-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Jake Roh with 2:12 to play finished off the Trojans. It was Roh’s first touchdown since 2015, and already gives the Broncos’ tight ends half as many as they had last year.

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Boise State Football

Boise State wide receiver Cedrick Wilson tries to stay in bounds as Troy cornerback Blace Brown tackles him Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, at Albertson's Stadium in Boise.

PAT SUTPHIN, TIMES-NEWS

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Cozart led Boise State on both of its touchdown drives, finishing 6-of-9 passing for 50 yards and the score to Roh. The mobile Kansas transfer also rushed for 36 yards. Starter Brett Rypien was 13-of-23 for 160 yards with an interception that was run back 53 yards for a touchdown late in the second quarter. He also was sacked four times as the offensive line trotted out three first-time starters.

Rypien, a two-time All-Mountain West selection, remains the starter, Harsin said. But a quarterback controversy was not on the checklist of likely events Saturday.

“They both know what they are doing, so it didn’t affect me at all which quarterback was in,” said sophomore running back Alexander Mattison, who had a 49-yard touchdown run. “We had a game plan on when we were going to use what type of quarterback, so we came out and punched them in the mouth.”

Maybe most surprising, and most relieving, was the Broncos’ prowess on special teams. The very first time a Bronco got his hands on the ball, redshirt freshman Avery Williams took a punt 81 yards to the house 1:36 into the game to give Boise State a lead it never relinquished.

Williams had 43 more punt return yards and added a 48-yard kickoff return. Senior Cedrick Wilson had a 55-yard kickoff return, and junior kicker Haden Hoggarth hit his lone field-goal attempt, a 41-yarder. It looked nothing like a unit that muffed three punts and had back-to-back onside kicks recovered against it once last season.

“It shows that our work did somewhat pay off,” Williams said. “We still have a lot of work to do in those areas. Just because we did well this game doesn’t mean we need to slack or anything, it just means we need to push harder. But I’ll say it’s a point of motivation for us. Our emphasis was to win the field position and get more turnovers than last year, and we’re on a great track already.”

As Boise State’s offense struggled at times, it was aided by those two areas of emphasis, with an average starting field position of its own 36-yard line.

But if the Broncos want to start off the campaign 2-0, they’ll need to get the offense back in gear as they face high-scoring No. 24 Washington State on the road at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

“We know we’re building, growing, getting better, and moving forward. I’m excited about this team,” Harsin said.

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