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Different year, same result.

The last time Boise State showed up in Las Vegas, it was to participate in the final football game at Sam Boyd Stadium. The Broncos stunk the joint out and got clobbered by Washington in the Las Vegas Bowl, 38-7.

It was supposed to be the final football game at UNLV’s old stadium. The Rebels were moving on to the $2 billion Allegiant Stadium and Sam Boyd was expected to face the wrecking ball. 

Instead, it was pressed into service as the coronavirus forced New Mexico to play its home schedule there. San Jose State did the same, hosting Nevada last Friday.

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Saturday was supposed to be the final football game again at Sam Boyd. Maybe it will be padlocked and razed. Or maybe it will remain useful 2021, for Hawaii perhaps as the Rainbow Warriors look for a new home as Aloha Stadium is condemned and cannot accommodate spectators.  

Boise State was once again a participant, this time in the Mountain West championship game, and once again, the Broncos were far from stellar.

With San Jose State, a 6.5-point underdog, playing inspired and confident football, the 25th-ranked Spartans defeated the Broncos, 34-20, to claim their first conference title. The Spartans, who improved to 7-0, will represent the Mountain West in the Dec. 31 Arizona Bowl in Tucson.

“This was the best,” San Jose State coach Brent Brennan sad. “To do it at this moment in this situation, is very special.”

The way Boise was struggling, this should’ve been a blowout by halftime. But San Jose State was unable to finish off drives and settled for four second-quarter field goals from Matt Mecurio to lead 19-6 at intermission. The Broncos cut it to 19-13 late in the third quarter on Avery Williams’ 69-yard punt return, but the Spartans didn’t wilt under the pressure. Quarterback Nick Starkel marched his team down the field and they got the TD back early in the fourth quarter. 

Starkel, the game’s Offensive Most Valuable Player, passed for 453 yards and three touchdowns. He delivered when it was needed most after the Broncos had pulled within 27-20 with 10:51 to play and the game was still up for grabs. He converted three times on third down and capped the drive with a one-yard toss to tight end Derrick Deese to give the Spartans back their double-digit lead at 34-20.

“They did a lot of different things on defense and they threw a lot of coverages at us,” Starkel said. “But we had answers to all of them and credit to our coaches for having us prepared.”

For the Broncos (5-2), it was a second straight disappointment in Las Vegas. Boise State netted just 12 yards rushing for the afternoon and that will have to improve if they intend to win whatever bowl they wind up in.

“I needed to play better and make better decisions,” said Broncos quarterback Hank Bachmeier, who threw for 221 yards and scored a rushing touchdown but was sacked three times. “We had energy but we didn’t take advantage of the momentum. We didn’t execute and that’s on us.” 

The Spartans’ amazing journey, which began with fall practice in Arcata, Calif. at Humboldt State, saw two games canceled, including a Nov. 28 contest at Boise State, saw two home games switched, one at Hawaii, the other to Las Vegas, where they’ve been encamped for the last two weeks, will continue in Arizona.

They will fly back to San Jose Sunday, spend Christmas with their families and friends and prepare for the trip to Tucson. 

“We kept getting back to the ‘Climb the mountain’ metaphor,” Brennan said. “We talked about us, how we respond to the good and the bad. We played for each other and that was the recipe for tonight. When we sing ‘Lean On Me’ together in the locker room, we mean it.”

Starkel said: “This team has been resilient. If we have to go to Scotts Valley, to Humboldt, to Hawaii or to Vegas, we say, ‘So what?’ and we just go and play.”

Next stop, Arizona.


About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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