PROVO, UTAH — A little bit of redemption was delivered by the Boise State football team Friday night.
With two weeks to stew over a surprising loss to Virginia, the Broncos came out flat against BYU at LaVell Edwards Stadium, a place where they had lost their last two visits and hadn’t won since 2003.
But after throwing an interception on the first drive and allowing an ensuing touchdown, Boise State’s 24-7 win showed resilience. The Broncos stepped up in areas where they struggled in September and created some hope for the upcoming Mountain West slate.
“It’s good for us, especially coming off these last two weeks, knowing how we actually can play. ... We can run with anybody,” Boise State junior linebacker Leighton Vander Esch said.
The Broncos (3-2) sent the Cougars (1-5) to a fifth straight loss, the first such losing streak for BYU since 1970. Success came from some unexpected sources, too.
Junior quarterback Brett Rypien was intercepted on his first pass attempt of the game. Ten plays later, the Cougars took a 7-0 lead on a 3-yard Ula Tolutau run. It was BYU’s first touchdown against an FBS team in the first quarter this season.
Rypien, who had not thrown a touchdown pass all season, hit sophomore wide receiver Sean Modster on a 24-yard scoring strike with 36 seconds left before halftime to stake the Broncos to a 17-7 lead. That capped a seven-play, 74-yard drive that took just 1 minute, 27 seconds.
It was the first career touchdown catch for Modster, who dropped three passes in the Broncos’ 42-23 loss to Virginia on Sept. 22.
“That one right there, overall in the game, was extremely big for us going into halftime,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “For Brett and Sean, those two guys to connect on a play, I thought that was big.”
Boise State put the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter with a methodical, 16-play, 82-yard drive that was finished off by sophomore Alexander Mattison’s 2-yard TD run. The Broncos converted four third downs on the drive.
Mattison rushed for a season-high 118 yards on 29 carries, and the Broncos’ 158 rushing yards were a vast improvement over the 30 yards they put up in the 42-23 loss to Virginia on Sept. 22.
“It was just a mindset, just knowing that we don’t have the time, we don’t have the space, the opportunity, to sit there and dance around. We’ve got to hit it downhill and fast and physical,” Mattison said. “That’s what we came into the game prepared to do, and we attacked it.”
The Broncos didn’t have senior center Mason Hampton, who had a walking boot on his right foot. Sophomore Garrett Larson stepped in to create the fifth line combination in five games and helped keep Rypien clean, as the line did not allow a sack for the first time this season.
“Can’t say enough about these guys, especially the offensive line. ... I think they did a much better job tonight,” Rypien said.
And let’s not forget about the defense. Coming off a rough performance, it shut down a BYU offense that had hoped to get a spark from Eagle High graduate Tanner Mangum, a victor over Boise State when he faced the Broncos two years ago in Provo.
On 10 drives after Tolutau’s touchdown, the Cougars mustered just 190 yards. They never again made it past the Broncos’ 35-yard line. Mangum was 18-of-33 passing for 164 yards, falling off after an 8-of-9 start. He was intercepted twice, by safety Kekoa Nawahine and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.
Nawahine’s 51-yard return in the second quarter set up a 20-yard Haden Hoggarth field goal that gave the Broncos a 10-7 lead with 3:49 left in the first half, a lead they never relinquished.
“I thought we had some open guys downfield and he threw it to the wrong guy,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said of Mangum. “Just bad reads. I’m not really going to sugarcoat it.”
Now Boise State will try to convert its small steps forward into a giant leap when the Broncos travel to No. 19 San Diego State for an 8:30 p.m. kickoff next Saturday on CBS Sports Network. The Aztecs (5-0) are the two-time defending Mountain West champions.