SAN DIEGO – For Broncos fans, the sentence - "it came down to a Boise State field goal attempt" – is the obvious set-up scene before gore in a horror movie. It’s the feeling a foil has during a comedy roast, it’s hoping a debit card transaction goes through out of an overdrawn account.
The seemingly unavoidable again came due for Boise State late Saturday night.
"This one has to go through, right?" was what Broncos fans must have been trying to convince themselves as they grinned through the suspense of the last play of regulation Saturday night against San Diego State.
The punch line has more punch.
Another one to the gut.
Everything seemed to be lined up just right for Dan Goodale.
Prior to his 43-yard miss in regulation on what ended up being a 34-31 overtime loss to the Aztecs, he had made every field goal he tried on the season but the first (that one was blocked), and was coming off a career long 47-yard kick against Wyoming.
“I had all the confidence in the world he would drill it,” Broncos quarterback Grant Hedrick said. “Nine times out of 10 he will make that.”
When big things are on the line, Broncos kickers are approaching that ratio in reverse.
Goodale might not have a chance to redeem himself – again – until a second-rate bowl game or next season, should he still be the starting kicker.
If Utah State beats Wyoming next weekend, it’ll be remembered as the kick that cost the Broncos a chance at the Mountain West Conference, and a spot in the inaugural conference championship game.
“It’s kind of heartbreaking, just because we had a lot of excitement about this year,” running back Jay Ajayi said.
It’s a great injustice in sports - kickers getting the brunt of criticism after losses like the one Boise State suffered - as Goodale’s superb junior season will not remembered as superb.
There’s so much else Boise State will want to forget.
It was a fitting way for the Aggies, a star-centric team playing most of the season without its star, to put themselves on the path to usurp the Broncos in the conference.
And it’s fitting that in a season in which the Broncos came up short in four road tests, the team it faced in the one it passed is the one that will pass them.
Head coach Chris Petersen called the Aztecs defense ‘awkward’ during the week.
You want awkward?
The old baseball park converted to an NFL stadium and borrowed by the local college football team was maybe a quarter full of fans Saturday night (a great crowd for SDSU), close to half of whom wore orange and or blue. A place where the public address announcer shrieks for the Aztecs defense before third downs like a child screaming into a megaphone at the public library for more books, as the response to the wails Saturday night went from reluctant clapping to sarcastic fake enthusiasm to deaf obliviousness, where more dancers prance about in the stands than there are students in the ‘student section’ and where highly provocative ‘90s R&B music is played during the kiss cam.
San Diego State does awkward.
And its defense did a number to Boise State’s offense.
“We never got into a rhythm until the fourth quarter,” Hedrick said. “They were creating chaos out there, a lot of confusion up front. They are bringing guys everywhere; a lot of pressure.”
The Broncos dropped relatively easy passes, had numerous breakdowns on the offensive line (missing injured right tackle Rees Odhiambo) and ostensible timing and pattern issues between Hedrick and his receivers.
Boise State had 64 yards midway through the third quarter in what is likely one of its worst offensive performances in the Chris Petersen era.
“It was three-and-out, after three-and-out, after three-and-out,” Petersen said. “It was very painful.”
The Broncos seemed to be outwitted by the Aztecs defense, but when the opportunities were there to make San Diego State pay for out-thinking itself, the Broncos lacked the physical explosion to convert.
In the first half, receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes had what appeared to be a touchdown in front of him on a screen but was caught from behind. Matt Miller had back-up quarterback Nick Patti wide-open across the field on a double-pass for what would have been a huge gain, but threw the ball 10 yards short.
In the fourth quarter, the Broncos failed to convert a third-and-two, a third-and-one, and a fourth-and-one.
“They make it hard, but we have to be able to make a yard,” Petersen said.
And after Goodale made a clutch field goal in overtime – one that won’t be remembered - the defense couldn’t hold the Aztecs, who had zero confidence in their kicker, to a field goal attempt.
“It (was) quiet in the locker room,” Ajayi said. “A lot of disappointment on people’s faces. I felt like we should have won this game and we let each other down a little bit.”
Was it just about the kick (and missed opportunities)?
“We had a chance, we definitely did,” Petersen said.
It should have higher aspirations.
Think of all that Boise State had been gifted to push it toward the situation it collectively said it wanted – a rematch with Fresno State - from Chuckie Keeton going down for the season, to the Aztecs fumbling a kick and a punt in their own territory Saturday night.
Blaming Dan Goodale and his wide-left kick for a season that fell short is scapegoat therapy. It might help keep Broncos fans from thinking about a much more harrowing and important truth: their team just isn’t all that good this year.
If not treated, such thinking leads to myopic delusions, the kind that could do substantial harm in a rebuilding environment.
The missed kick was 43 yards, and Broncos fans should ruminate on the number.
What should be learned from the four losses that has nothing to do with three missed points?