Fresno State offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer saw it. Quarterback Marcus McMaryion saw it as well.
Even before McMaryion let fly an 81-yard touchdown strike to KeeSean Johnson that was the knockout blow in a 28-17 victory over Boise State on Saturday, they knew opportunity was there from where safety Kekoa Nawahine was, or wasn’t, lined up.
“They rolled to a Cover 3 and the safety that was supposed to be in the post, he was pushing the post but he just wasn’t getting to the post,” McMaryion said. “He wasn’t pushing for depth, he was just kind of back there.
“I saw KeeSean running with a full head of steam and figured that he could get behind him and he did a great job finishing.”
David Patterson, the Bulldogs’ right tackle, didn’t see any of that. He was otherwise engaged, blocking. But he heard a gasp from a crowd of 31,526 at Bulldog Stadium, the largest since the opener when Derek Carr had his No. 4 retired. He looked up, saw the ball in flight, saw Johnson running under it.
“He catches it and was able to get some separation, then broke off that last guy and made it to the end zone,” Patterson said.
“Then I ran my fastest sprint ever to get down there.”
It was the perfect call at the perfect time for the Bulldogs, who needed points to fend off a rally after the Broncos had closed to 19-17 with 9:05 to go.
They had been aggressive in taking some shots early that did not connect, but they were able to get it there on one play, their longest from scrimmage this season.
“More than anything we knew we had to stay aggressive,” DeBoer said. “Marcus was pretty locked in on the safety, it was pretty evident. He did a great job of gauging the depth of that safety to get that ball over the top of him.
“There are a couple of options on that play and that’s the first one, to take a shot down the field if the safety is low and we got behind the corner. He did a perfect job reading the play. It’s one he has been pretty dialed in on all year along.”
Johnson caught the ball in stride at the 36 and took off. Boise State cornerback Avery Williams made a diving attempt at him at the 17, but Johnson kept going and beat Nawahine the last 15 yards to the left corner of the end zone just like he had in the first 15 yards on that route.
It unfolded perfectly.
“It’s more a reaction,” McMaryion said. “That’s an alert throw, so it’s more just a game time reaction, just sticking to your rules and your reads and not jumping to conclusions and assuming what they’re going to do.”
Defensive tackle Nate Madsen went down with an injury to his right leg with 2:49 in the third quarter. He did not return, and would likely be doubtful to play against the Broncos in the Mountain West championship game.
“I am not sure what Madsen’s status is but I am sure he will get an MRI,” coach Jeff Tedford said.
“It is always emotional when you play your last game. All he could say when he was out there on the field hurting was ‘I want to be in here. I want to be in here.’ That really shows the commitment he has to his teammates to be a part of it. He has been a major part of it through the whole thing. Nate has been one of those guys who bought in to things in terms of leadership. It was heartbreaking seeing him lying on the field in his last game in this stadium. I hope everything is fine with him once the MRI happens. He has been great for this football team.”
Madsen was carted off the field late in the fourth quarter, but his teammates took the Milk Can trophy to him after the game.
“He is one of the guys that has been here with me for five years,” defensive end Robert Stanley said. “If anyone deserves it, it’s him. He plays his butt off every game, he practices hard, lifts hard, runs conditioning hard. He’s just someone that deserves it.”
A long time coming
The Bulldogs’ victory over No. 25 Boise State was their first over a ranked team since 2004 when they beat No. 18 Virginia 37-34 in overtime in the MPC Computers Bowl.
By the numbers
0 – Touchdown passes for Boise State’s Brett Rypien, who had 12 across the Broncos’ previous four games. Rypien had thrown for a TD in six of the seven Mountain West games he had played, the other shutout a 24-14 victory over Wyoming.
0 – Sacks for Boise State, which came in leading the conference with 2.6 per game.
12 – Games with a field goal this season for Jimmy Camacho. He has 98 points this year and is tied for ninth in Bulldogs’ single-season history with Brett Visintainer (2003).
7.9 – Yards for Fresno State on first down, a number fattened up by the 81-yard TD pass from McMaryion to Johnson. Even without that play, the Bulldogs averaged a healthy 5.1.
4 – Receptions for Jamire Jordan, a season high. The Bulldogs are 6-0 when Jordan has two or more in a game.
1 – Tackles for loss allowed by the Bulldogs’ offensive line, which went into the game first in the Mountain West and third in the nation allowing only 36 or 3.3 per game.
332 – Passing yards for McMaryion, a career high. His best previously came when he was at Oregon State – throwing for 327 yards in a 2016 loss to Washington State.
5 – Explosive pass plays of 20 or more yards by the Bulldogs, their most since six in a 38-0 victory over New Mexico on Oct. 14.
224 – Yards for Boise State in the first half , the first and only time the Bulldogs’ defense allowed 200 or more yards in a half in conference play.
3-0 – Bulldogs’ record in trophy games, adding the Milk Can to the Valley Trophy they won at San Jose State and the Oil Can at San Diego State. Two more await: next Saturday in the Mountain West Championship and another in a bowl, with the Bulldogs’ destination to be determined after the conference title game.
Tedford: “To send the seniors up the ramp with a victory is great. It is another game and we have one more to go. I cannot tell you how happy and gratified I am to see all of the hard work paying off for these guys and this coaching staff who have put so much into it. Boise State has a great football team, we have a lot of respect for them and now we have to go and do it one more time.
“We will have a lot of hard work going into this coming up week, but for tonight, we can enjoy this win and our guys will feel good about themselves, especially the seniors. It is a great honor for them to leave the stadium today with a victory.”
Senior center Aaron Mitchell on the atmosphere: “I think it’s been two years since I have heard it that loud. I think it’s been a long time coming. I can’t thank the Red Wave enough for showing out today. I don’t think they really understand how much they play a factor in this. Their energy, players vibe off that. It really brings a sense of pride to play for The Valley. It was awesome and it was a great feeling.
“I’d like to thank the Red Wave for coming out and showing out today and making this day a special day for all of us.”
Boise State running back Alex Mattison: “We played a good team. They came out and they did what they wanted to do against us and we did not execute certain situations. We’ve got to look at the film and get better.”
Tedford on the Mountain West Championship game: “The same message that it is every single week. It is one day at a time. We will watch film tomorrow to try to get some mistakes cleaned up, have our banquet and then get back to work.
“Our approach never changes. We know this next one is for the Mountain West Conference Championship, but we will prepare for it the same way we do every other game. The guys know that and they will know what to expect next week. We have got to get healthy for sure, that was a very physical football game. We have to get healthy and get prepared.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. BOISE STATE
- Saturday, Dec. 2: 4:45 p.m., site to be determined
- Records: Bulldogs 9-3, 7-1 Mountain West; Broncos 9-3, 7-1
- TV/radio: ESPN/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600).
- Of note: The Bulldogs are playing in their third Mountain West Conference championship game, the site of the game to be announced by the conference at 9 a.m. Sunday. Fresno State and Boise State met for the title in 2014 in Boise and there are 18 players on the roster who were on that team and four that played in that game – wideout Da’Mari Scott, outside linebacker Justin Green, kicker Kody Kroening and defensive tackle Nate Madsen.