Fresno State kept within striking distance of Boise State for much of Friday night, an improvement over how the Bulldogs have fared on previous games played out on the Broncos’ blue turf.
The Bulldogs never trailed in this one by by more than 10 points.
And after three quarters, they and the Broncos were tied at 27-27 — more points going into the fourth than past Bulldogs teams had scored in a game in the six most recent meetings in Boise.
“We had the momentum,” Bulldogs safety Derron Smith said. “It was our game to lose. That’s how we felt. This is it. This is what we work for. This is what we do all those summer workouts for. Let’s go out and get the ‘W.’ ”
But as encouraging as the 17-point underdog played for three quarters, Fresno State disappeared down the stretch.
The offense generated 4 yards in the final quarter. And the defense was fooled by a timely trick play that resulted in the go-ahead touchdown.
“We battled, we tied it up, but we didn’t do enough to win,” Bulldogs quarterback Brian Burrell said.
The Bulldogs (3-5, 2-2 Mountain West), on a bye next week, likely must win out in their final four games to reach a bowl. A 6-6 record would make Fresno State bowl eligible, but it would be on shaky grounds to get a bid.
In the all-time series against the Broncos, Fresno State fell to 1-7 at Boise State with its seventh straight loss there.
Past outings left little in doubt entering the final quarter: Fresno State trailed 17-3 in 2012, 37-0 in 2010, 41-10 in 2008, 38-14 in 2006, 23-10 in 2004 and 40-14 in 2002.
The Bulldogs tied Friday’s game 27-27 with 1:57 left in the third after T.J. Thomas forced a fumble on kickoff and Stratton Brown made the recovery at the Boise State 5, setting up running back Marteze Waller’s 3-yard touchdown run.
“We were ready to go,” Burrell said. “We knew what we had to do. There wasn’t much needed to be said.”
Fresno State’s staff did face questions afterward about the lack of late touches for Waller. The 5-foot-11, 209-pound running back had bruised the Broncos for 162 yards and two touchdowns through three quarters. But he carried just once in the fourth — a 2-yard run that netted half of Fresno State’s total yards in the final quarter.
After Boise State chewed up 7 minutes, 46 seconds with a 17-play, 75-yard drive that ended with quarterback Grant Hedrick catching a 9-yard touchdown for the go-ahead score, the Bulldogs followed with a three-and-out possession.
Fresno State’s defense forced Boise State into a three-and-out drive, but the Bulldogs offense again went three and out with Burrell getting sacked for a 10-yard loss on third down.
By the time Fresno State got the ball back for its final possession, Boise State was up 10 after adding a 24-yard field goal aided by Jay Ajayi’s 54-yard run along the perimeter three plays earlier.
Burrell, with an interception to end that final drive, finished 13 of 25 for 127 yards with one touchdown. He thrown 13 touchdowns to eight interceptions, but completed just 154 of 275 passes for a relatively low 56% completion rate for 1,595 yards.
Sacks continued to be a problem. He was taken down five times by the Broncos, raising his season total to 21. Fresno State opponents had 11 sacks all of last season.
Just ahead of the Bulldogs' special teams forcing the fumble on the kickoff to set up the tying touchdown, Bulldogs kicker Kody Kroening made his first field goal of 40-plus yards. The freshman hit a 44-yarder that cut Boise State’s lead to 27-20.
Kroening also made a a 34-yard field goal in the first quarter and all three of his extra points.
A week earlier, the walk-on missed a fourth-quarter extra point that left the door open for UNLV to win 30-27 in overtime.
“I’m extremely proud of our kicker, Kody,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “After being down last week, he gutted it out. Really, really proud of him.”
Backup quarterback Brandon Connette made a cameo appearance — and an odd one at that.
Since falling out of the two-man tandem with Burrell four games into the season, Connette has been used mostly in goal-line and other short-yardage situations or as a change-of-pace option.
When Connette entered Friday, it was first-and-10 from the Fresno State 25 with Boise State ahead 20-10 midway through the second quarter.
Connette ran twice to the start the drive, losing a yard on his first carry then gaining 2 on his next. He returned to the sideline and never re-entered the game.
“It was a package we'd been working on,” DeRuyter said. “We thought it would change the pace up a little bit. But we didn’t execute. We’ve got to get better.”
Connette has played in two of four Mountain West games and attempted just one pass in that stretch — and that was a off a field goal fake. Connette’s last attempt while running Fresno State’s offense was against Southern Utah on Sept. 20 when he went 5 of 11 for 51 yards and a touchdown.
For the season, Connette is 29 of 53 for 299 yards and two touchdowns. He has three interceptions and also 37 carries for 123 yards and two touchdowns.