By W.G. Ramirez, Special to the Las Vegas Bowl
LAS VEGAS — Boise State is still perfect in the Las Vegas Bowl, and still perfect against Oregon.
Cedrick Wilson caught 10 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown, Kekaula Kaniho returned an interception 53 yards for a score and the 25th-ranked Broncos beat Oregon 38-28 in the 26th Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday.
Boise State is 4-0 all time in the bowl game, and 3-0 against the Ducks. The crowd of 36,432 ranked ninth in Las Vegas Bowl history.
“I’ve been around Boise State football longer than anybody, and I’ve been a part of great team, and I can tell you this right now – you can focus on the records all you want, but this football team and the type of character they have, and this coaching staff is as good as any we’ve had at Boise State,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “I’m just very humble and proud of what our team and coaches were able to accomplish this year, and just to be a part of it.”
Brett Rypien threw for 362 yards and two touchdown passes to help Boise State (11-3) snap its three-game losing streak against Power 5 schools, while Ryan Wolpin rushed for two touchdowns.
Boise State closed the season by winning nine of their last 10 games, including the Mountain West Conference title game.
The Mountain West improved to 11-7 in the Las Vegas Bowl, and has won the last two. The Mountain West is also 9-6 against the Pac 12 in the game.
The Broncos, who came into the game ranked ninth in the nation with a 0.92 turnover margin, forced four turnovers in the first half, and took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on Wolpin’s 1-yard touchdown run and Rypien’s 26-yard scoring pass to Wilson.
“It just feels good that all the hard work that I’ve done has worked out and that I’ve been blessed to play for good quarterbacks every year that I switched to the position of receiver,” said Wilson, who was voted the game’s Most Valuable Player. “I feel like it starts with our o-line; obviously Brett (Rypien) and (Montrell) Cozart can’t get the ball out without them blocking. I think it starts there and them putting the ball where I have a chance to get it and then me doing the job.”
Troy Dye and Tyree Robinson each scored a defensive touchdown in the waning moments of the first half for Oregon (7-6), while Justin Herbert was 26 of 36 passing for 233 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
“I thought the defense was dominating today,” said Harsin, whose Broncos also ranked 35th in the country in limiting teams to 22.5 points per game. “We spotted them a few points, otherwise the score is completely different. I thought our offense moved the ball up and down the field, and Oregon had a very tough time stopping it.”
Trailing 24-0, Dye recovered a fumble on a botched Statue of Liberty handoff and returned it 86 yards for a touchdown with 37 seconds remaining to give the Ducks their first points of the game. Moments later, after a 65-yard reception by Wilson set the Boise State single-season record for yards receiving and put the Broncos back in the red zone, Robinson picked off Rypien’s pass in the corner of the end zone and returned it 100 yards on the longest interception return in school history with 7 seconds remaining to make it 24-14.
Dye’s fumble recovery was the longest fumble return in Las Vegas Bowl history, while Robinson pick-six tied Boise State’s Jamar Taylor’s record INT set in 2011.
Boise State outgained Oregon 294-77 in the first half and reached Ducks’ territory on eight of 10 possessions.
Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Leighton Van Esch turned in a monster game on defense, finishing with 12 total tackles, including one quarterback sack, three tackles-for-loss and one forced fumble.
The teams combined for seven total turnovers – all in the first half – tying for the most turnovers in a Las Vegas Bowl, after Boise State and Utah committed seven in 2010. It was also the first Las Vegas Bowl with three defensive touchdowns.
“Getting down 24-0, with penalties, and turnovers, and that kind of stuff,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “And then the defense doing a great job giving us two scores right before the half certainly gave us an opportunity … but it’s a lot of stuff to overcome, and when you put yourself in that situation you have to find a way to overcome it. We didn’t.”
The Ducks never gave up, though.
After Alec Dhaenens caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from Rypien in the third quarter, the Ducks closed within 10, at 31-21, on a 24-yard strike from Herbert to Brendan Schooler with 10:07 remaining.
Oregon had a chance to cut it to a one-possession game, but Herbert was sacked near midfield, and Boise State drove 86 yards in 11 plays capped by Wolpin’s second 1-yard touchdown run.