Broncos win Mountain West title with 17-14 comeback win against Fresno State

Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (38) raises the Mountain West Championship trophy after Boise State won 17-14 over Fresno State (Photo Courtesy Chris Bronson/IPT)

BOISE – Boise State coach Bryan Harsin knew exactly how many days had passed since the Broncos last won the Mountain West title in 2014.

“1,191 days,” Harsin said. “Nobody’s counting though.”

Boise State ended the drought in dramatic fashion Saturday night, coming from behind with a fourth-quarter touchdown to beat Fresno State 17-14 to win the Mountain West Championship at Albertsons Stadium.

Senior Ryan Wolpin scored the eventual game-winning touchdown on a 2-yard run with 4:42 left in the game after taking over for Alexander Mattison, who was injured earlier in the game.

“It’s surreal,” Wolpin said. “Ever since I came to this school this has been my dream. It’s been my dream since I was a little kid. And to be able to come out here and help my team win it, I can’t even put it into words how much this means to me.”

The Broncos lost to Fresno State in the regular season finale last week, and again struggled to put much together offensively Saturday. But they came up with the biggest drive of the season when they needed it in the fourth quarter, and will get a trip to the Las Vegas Bowl as a reward.

Boise State trailed 14-10 midway through the fourth quarter and had to start at their own 10-yard line. A penalty pushed them back to the five. But a 59-yard pass play from Brett Rypien to Cedrick Wilson got the Broncos rolling, and they used another pass to Wilson and an 11-yard run from Wolpin to get into the red zone.

Wolpin followed with arguably the most important touchdown of his career, taking a direct snap and powering his way into the end zone to give the Broncos a 17-14 lead with 4:42 to play.

“It’s just unreal,” Wolpin said. “It’s exactly how I would want it to end.”

Rypien passed for 246 yards, including 74 on the final drive, to earn offensive MPV honors. Wilson had a strong case as well after making eight catches for 148 yards – including two huge ones on the final drive.

Boise State’s defense stepped up big Saturday. After giving up 28 points to Fresno State in the loss last week, the Broncos limited Fresno State to just 14 points – including none in the second half.

Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch had a team-high 16 tackles and sealed the game with an interception in the final seconds to earn defensive MPV honors.

“Defense wins championships,” Vander Esch said. “We played excellent in the second half. We got everybody together in the locker room and said 'we’re a second half team and we’re about to win this game.'

“I can’t explain it. We worked so long and so hard for this and it finally paid off. This is a special group.”

Boise State will play either Oregon or Arizona in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 16. The matchup will officially be announced on Sunday.

“This feels incredible,” Wilson said. “It’s nothing like I’ve ever experienced before. Like I told my teammates at the beginning of the season, I’ve never won a championship. Now I know what it feels like.”

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