FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The Atlanta Falcons’ support group for big-game, blown 28-3 leads has a new member.
With their hopes for a Mountain West Mountain Division title dependent solely on a win Saturday, the Colorado State Rams came out on fire against the Boise State Broncos, going up by the cursed 25-point margin just 18 minutes, 41 seconds into the game.
But Boise State had something in its corner that can’t be measured — heart.
Senior wide receiver Cedrick Wilson, battling a shoulder injury, recovered an onside kick that set up the score that forced overtime. Junior cornerback Tyler Horton, whose high school position coach died earlier Saturday, struggled throughout the first half but recovered a fumble to seal the 59-52 overtime victory.
“It shows we’ll never give up, we’ll fight until it’s 0:00 and beyond,” redshirt freshman cornerback Avery Williams said.
The Broncos (8-2, 6-0 Mountain West), who won their sixth straight game, can win the Mountain Division with one more win, either at home against Air Force or at Fresno State. The Rams (6-5, 4-3) suffered their third straight loss and are 0-7 all-time against Boise State.
It was the largest comeback for the Broncos since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision in 1996. The previous biggest deficit overcome was 20 points.
“It’s going to be unforgettable, from the standpoint of what our guys overcame,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.
Colorado State scored touchdowns on its first five drives, leading 35-10 before the Broncos scored on a five-play, 75-yard drive that took just 52 seconds to cut it to 35-17 with 1:34 left before halftime on a 26-yard Alexander Mattison run.
That was a sign of things to come for Mattison, who finished with 242 yards on 23 carries with three touchdowns — the last the go-ahead score from 4 yards out in overtime. His rushing total was the third-best in a single game in Boise State history.
“Instead of abandoning the run, we hit it even more, we just beat up on their defensive front and their secondary,” Mattison said. “It just showed up as the game went on. It felt great.”
The Broncos overcame one of their worst starts in recent years, a first half in which Wilson dropped a touchdown pass on the first drive and safety Kekoa Nawahine had an interception return for a touchdown called back after a roughing-the-passer penalty. The Rams made it 28-3 after that, but the Super Bowl score claimed a new victim.
“They found a way to win,” Harsin said. “I’m sure early in the game, nobody thought that was going to happen. That’s a gut check for our team, to see what we’re really about, if the stuff we talk about is really going to show up.”
Boise State trailed 52-38 with 3:02 left, but the Broncos responded with two quick touchdown drives around Wilson’s recovery. Quarterback Brett Rypien’s touchdown pass to tight end Jake Roh with 57 seconds left tied it up. Rypien had four touchdown passes and 331 yards with an interception.
The offense went 120 yards in 1:57 to get the pair of touchdowns that forced overtime, then took four plays to score from 25 yards out for the Broncos’ first lead of the game in overtime.
“I don’t think I can really explain it,” Rypien said. “... We ran pretty much every concept we have on those last two drives.
“We were able to score, get the kick, and the rest is history.”
Boise State, which had not given up more than 14 points in an entire game during its five-game win streak, allowed the most points since a 52-26 loss at Utah State on Oct. 16, 2015. But linebacker Leighton Vander Esch’s strip of Rashaad Boddie and Horton’s recovery proved the Broncos still had something left.
“It doesn’t matter what the score on the scoreboard is, we’re going to treat it the same either way,” Nawahine said. “Big-time players are going to make big-time plays, and we were able to do that tonight.”
Not only did the Broncos withstand a rash of injuries, and overcome 570 yards by the Rams, but they showed resilience in closing out the type of game that has caused them problems in recent years.
Last year, Colorado State recovered consecutive onside kicks before Wilson fell on the third in the final minutes. After having lost three straight overtime games, including a triple-overtime heartbreaker to Washington State in September, the Broncos finished. At 12:55 a.m. Sunday morning, technically.
“There’s disappointments in there, but you learn from it,” Harsin said. “... We’ve been there before, and our guys were able to find a way to finish.”