It’s so hard to pick a top 10 here. Luckily my cutoff was 2012, so my list isn’t just a flood of Kellen Moore games. Honestly I find blowouts the most relaxing and enjoyable but it’s usually hard to call those “great games”. I try to do a little bit of both (although I felt compelled to include an honorable mention for 2012’s 7-6 victory over BYU purely for the horror of that game). That being said, the game is great only if we win, and it’s greater the more important the win was. Bonus points for a cool comeback unless it’s a game we were supposed to win. (There is one exception to this rule though haha.)
I think you could make a case for more 2019 games, as well as some MW championship games. I was inclined to pick some games that were tied to players specifically, and some games I felt like were good for the same reason, so I just picked one. (e.g. picking a bowl game instead of a championship game)
Lastly, big thank you to @boise_edits for his awesome highlight videos with each game which were also helpful on the writing side for me. But without further ado, here is OBNUG’s top 10 BSU games of the last 10 years!
10. At SDSU 2017 (In Avery we trust)
2017 was a year unkind to the blood pressure of Bronco faithful. This is the first of 3 games from that year on the list, and there were certainly other, less fun games as well.
Trips to San Diego are seldom good for the heart anyway when it comes to the Broncos. (and that goes for football AND basketball). To make matters worse, the Broncos were 3-2, and the Aztecs a perfect 6-0, holding a number 19 ranking. And that’s where rationality leaves, and BSU football comes to stay.
The game opened up with four punts. Just one play short of four 3-and outs, the game crawled on. And then San Diego State made a mistake. The Aztecs punted to Avery Williams. Williams fielded the ball then bolted for a gap not visible on the TV screen. After a few moments he was all alone again, walking it in for the TD.
The following possession wasn’t much better for the Aztecs as a Miles Durrant strip sack took one bounce before it was recovered by Kekaula Kaniho whose 34 yard return pushed the lead to 14-0.
And the rout was on. Alexander Mattison lead all stat-getters with 128 yards and TD, Brett Rypien had the longest run of the day at 31 yards, and the hopes and dreams of SDSU were dashed in 60 minutes.
Boise State 31 San Diego State 14
9. Milk Can Redemption (2021, at #23 Fresno State)
There was some talk in the San Joaquin valley about a moment to be defined. Awaiting the Broncos was the first Fresno sellout in years, along with a top 25 ranking. Boise still hadn’t won 2 games in a row in the season, but ranked road rivalry games were the perfect medicine. A tense first half was sprinkled with Holani breaking free every which way. A 16-7 halftime lead soon turned in a 40-7 4th quarter onslaught.
Jonah Buckets was 4/4 on field goals to no one’s surprise. The Kaniho brothers both dipped their hands in the interception cookie jar, with Kanohi’s sweetly coming on one-too-many targets his direction. Skinner thought it’d be fun to snag an interception too for good measure. Shakir snagged a a jump ball TD in the end zone, and Tyler Crowe scored his first TD on pure effort. To cap it off, sacks and TFLs were passed out like candy.
I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but it just felt good. The game would start Big Game Boomer’s eternal hatred against the Broncos (He had gone down to Fresno and picked them to win), and would continue the Broncos trend of being the ultimate party pooper team. To commemorate the moment, Boise State’s video team did a masterful job clapping back at Fresno’s pregame “Define the Moment” video.
Boise State 40 Fresno State 14
8. The Ascension of LVE and Cedrick Wilson (2017, Las Vegas Bowl vs. Oregon)
Despite some ups and downs, the Broncos finished 2017 with their 2nd outright Mountain West title, giving them a berth in the Las Vegas Bowl. I probably could have placed that one here, but this one was a bit more fun. Alexander Mattison was out for the game, leading to some concerns in Boise State’s ability to extend their winning streak over Justin Herbert’s ducks.
The undeniable tandem of Leighton Vander Esch and Cedrick Wilson put those concerns to bed. It was said that LVE packed Oregon’s hopes and dreams neatly in a suitcase after his demolition derby of Las Vegas. He finished with 12 tackles, (TEN solo), a sack, 3 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble.
Cedrick Wilson was no kinder to Oregon on Mario Cristobal’s first day on the job. Cedrick came out with 10 catches for a whopping 221 yards and a TD. (That’s a highly respectable 22 yards per catch) With each reception he whittled out the self confidence from Oregon corners.
As for stats that don’t seem real, in that 2017 game, Kekalua Kaniho had a pix-6 and CT Thomas had a pair of catches. Let’s run that back, 2017-Freshman, 2018-Sophmore, 2019 Junior, 2020 Senior, 2021 Covid-Super-Senior. Math checks out!
Boise State went viral with their pirouette pre-snap motion, ensuring our trick play supremacy for at least another decade. Justin Herbert had 3 of Oregon’s 4 total turnovers for the game, joining a solid list of current NFL starting QBs who’ve lost to the Broncos. (That’s Zach Wilson, Derek Carr, Josh Allen, Taysom Hill?, and Justin Herbert, but who’s counting?)
The only regret here is that it wasn’t a blowout. Two 90+ yard defensive touchdowns by Oregon in the last minute of the 2nd quarter took a 24-0 game to a 24-14 halftime lead. The final score looked closer than it was, but the Broncos always remained out of reach for the Ducks, who fell to 0-3 all time against The Best Team in the West.
Boise State 38 Oregon 28
7. SDSU 2014 (Comeback in the Cold)
The 2014 Fiesta Bowl season didn’t always have that sparkle. Were it not for this comeback, a NY6 game would have been just out of reach. 9 degrees marked a historically icy game with the Aztecs in town. To start the game off, the Broncos generously spotted 20 points to the visiting San Diego squad.
The game officially started with 7:33 left in the 2nd quarter, Aztecs holding a 20-0 lead. After consulting with offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, they determined that scoring was in the best interest of the victory, and began to do so. The Sperbeck and Ajayi show dragged two drives down the field leading to a 20-10 half-time deficit.
And they didn’t stop. Ajayi had 31 carries for the game as he steadily crushed the life out of Rocky Long’s front. The Aztecs did manage a field goal near the start of the third, but otherwise clocked themselves out of the game. 23-10 turned into 23-17 turned into 24-23 turned into 31-23. An effective 31-3 run stopped San Diego’s heart cold.
Ajayi took the ball 8 times on the final drive, chipping nearly 7 minutes off the clock. Finally, it was a 3rd down scamper from Hedrick that would seal the comeback. The Broncos had actually lost the turnover battle 2-1 for the game, but Cleshawn Page had the timely pick that was all a part of the Bronco’s rallying avalanche. And that was the game. Not a flashy comeback, but pure grit, slowly inching its way to an eventual Mountain West Championship and Fiesta Bowl berth.
Boise State 38 San Diego 29
6. Washington 2015 (Return of the Coach Pete)
Probably two Washington games could have made this list if we’re being honest here. The 2012 Las Vegas bowl was probably the more exciting one, but this one just meant so much more. Fresh off a Fiesta Bowl victory, Bryan Harsin would face his former sensei on the Blue to kick off 2015.
A sellout Bronco crowd watched Ryan Finley lead the charge at starting QB with the McWeapon alongside him. It was hard to complain about the first half, with a pair of McNichols TDs and a Tyler Rausa FG giving the Broncos a 16-0 edge. Offense wasn’t exactly a calling card for this one, as it was Holden Huff’s 28 yards on 2 catches on the game that led the way for Bronco receivers. Similarly, Dwayne Johnson (Clearly NOT the Rock) lead all Husky rushers with 14 yards on 8 carries in 60 minutes of action.
To be fair, it wouldn’t be a Bronco game if we didn’t allow for a large rally to keep the blood flowing. It was led by the cousin of Austin Pettis, Dante, who took back two long punt returns, 1 for a touchdown, to keep the game close.
With a touch of extreme irony, the game came down to a field goal. Washington kicker Cameron Van Winkle pushed the kick just right, sealing the Bronco victory.
As far as I can remember, it was the last time BSU played Washington, and no one is allowed to correct me otherwise.
Boise State 16 Washington 13
5. BYU 2018 (Zach Wilson gets rekt)
There once was a little decommit that came to town, riding on a cougar. Zach “Commitment Issues” Wilson rolled into the rivalry game starting at QB for the BYU.
He was welcomed by the Curtis Weaver show, whose pair of sacks and 2.5 TFL were plenty to handle. Mr. Issues was sacked a total of 7 times for the game, with the most important coming at the glorious end. But we’ll get to that.
As is standard procedure, the Broncos raced out to a 14-0 lead. Mattison took the load, bruising his way through with 89 yards on 25 carries for the game. His two touchdowns gave the Broncos a lead just comfortable enough that fans everywhere could dine on their own fingernails for the remainder of the game.
On my rewatch of this game I had the thought, “It’s awesome how trick plays never seem to work against us”. Karma was instant. The Broncos dangling to a 21-13 lead, a BYU WR pass snuck right by security on the road to paydirt.
Well, it would have been. Tyler Horton swooped in and ripped the ball free from TE Matt Bushman’s hands, just 3 yards shy of the goal line. In quick recovery, Horton scrambled to his feet, and dove on the ball for the touchback.
Somehow, just BYU games always do, the game came down to sudden death. 2nd and goal with 7 seconds to go, Broncos up 5. Zach Wilson took the snap, took a moment, and quickly began to feel pressure on his right. He scrambled through, and managed to stumble through a few tackles before ultimately being swallowed in a sea of blue.
Boise State 21 BYU 16
4. Florida State 2019 (Hurricane Hank)
A much anticipated trip to Florida was deterred somewhat by the entrance of a hurricane. Some would call that hurricane Dorian, but we know him as Hank.
2019 was a big year for the Broncos. Their first MW championship and their best record in 5 years all started with a trip that ended up in Tallahassee. True freshman Hank Bachmeier had the start.
Early turnovers drew out a deficit quickly, and Florida State jumped out to a 31-13 lead. At one point, ESPN’s win probability graphic put the Broncos’ winning probability at around 3%. Perfect conditions for Hurricane Hank.
Florida State wouldn’t score again as Boise whittled down the lead. Big plays came in all shapes and sizes. Hank threw for 400 yards, Mahone had 142 yards and a pair of TDs on 24 carries. To put the game within 5, Shakir mossed his defender for an 11 yard TD. Kaniho and Whimpey each forced a fumble to close the gap.
When Robert Mahone punched in his second TD for the day, the Broncos took a lead they would never relinquish. Not to be forgotten, Eric Sachse hit his 5th of 5 field goals on the day to push the score to 36.
Look, I’m not saying we personally got another Florida State coach fired, but we can’t have helped Willie Taggert’s case.
Boise State 36 Florida State 31
3. Colorado State 2017 (My name is Alexander Mattison)
Atlanta Falcons fans, now is the time to close your eyes.
The 3rd and final 2017 game on this list was a doozy. It tasted like a meltdown game (and we had a meltdown game that year). Not 4 minutes into the second quarter, Colorado State had already commanded a 28-3 lead. In fact, in their retro (alternate?) white and blue uniforms, they scored TDs on their first 5 drives of the game. It was dumb. CSU had never beaten us, which was a fact the commentators repeated often.
It was unclear how the game had slipped so quickly, but the Bronco response was swift. Alexander Mattison had TD runs of 26 and 70 as he sliced through the Ram defense. Brett Rypien lead methodical drives with lots of passes to TEs as the deficit shrunk to four in the start of the third quarter.
The tide of the game didn’t shift as quickly as hoped though, with stalling drives and turnovers leaving Boise State trailing by 14 with 3 minutes to go. The spark finally came with a few Modster receptions and a CSU personal foul, with the TD cutting the score to 45-52. With less than two minutes remaining and only 2 timeouts, the Broncos would need to try on onside kick.
The ensuing onside was beautiful as they come. Haden Hogarth faked to one side, then Joel Velasquez kicked a perfect one-hop kick to the other side, where it was received by Cedrick Wilson who mossed Michael Gallup for the recovery.
Jake Roh caught the tying touchdown, while Mattison punched in the go ahead score in overtime, giving the Broncos their first lead at 59-52. Colorado State came close to sending the game into double-overtime, but Leighton Vander-Esch punched the ball out on the 5, and Tyler Horton’s recovery sealed the game.
It wasn’t pretty, but the comeback was certainly enjoyable. Mattison was the star of the show, finishing with 242 yards and 3 TDs on the day. He helped make sure I can say this stat today: Boise State is 11-0 all time against Colorado State. #RamsTears
Boise State 59 Colorado Sate 52
2. #10 BYU 2021 (Shakir ‘n the gang wrecks dreams in Provo)
Optimism for the Broncos in 2021 had reached a new low. A loss to Nevada left the BSU 2-2 for the year with a top-10 road game looming against the team across town (and down I-84 a while, then down I-15 a bit longer). On the other hand, rival BYU had 3 Pac-12 wins under their belt and a capacity crowd of 63,470.
I feel strongly that I can defend this game’s place as #2, but I certainly have a personal bias. Channeling some mystical powers of persuasion I may not be able to muster ever again, I convinced my wife to go to the game with me the day after our wedding. It may be my greatest life accomplishment to date, with the payout being the best Boise State game I’ve ever been to in-person.
What we got was magic. Audiences tuning in to the most watched non-P5 game in years watched BYU race out to a 10 point lead, and the nightmares of 2020 started to return. Then, something inexplicable happened. Call it divine intervention. It started to rain.
Suddenly every issue that had existed minutes and weeks prior evaporated. Run game? Check. Pass rush? Check. Playing our 4th and 5th string corners? Bring it on. Human tank JL Skinner out with a targeting call? Next man up.
And then it all started happening at once. A fumble recovery. Habbi-Likio slices through for a TD. The ensuing kickoff? Another fumble recovery. Then “Touchdown Vulture” AVB pushed through the pile for another. The 17-10 was the first deficit BYU had faced all year.
All while this was happening, I was actually sitting on the opposite side of the Boise fan base. (Which was more of a financial decision than a tactical one). I wasn’t quiet, and the moments following the second BYU fumble in a row had me questioning my safety.
Jonah Buckets was 4/4 on field goals for the day, keeping the Cougs just out of reach. His last field goal pushed the lead to 9 with minutes remaining. It came after the Khalil Shakir catch of Khalil Shakir catches: doubled-covered deep ball that let me remind the stunned fans around me that he was, in fact, the best WR in college football. BYU fans began to file out after that, but true freshman Kanohi Kaniho’s interception really opened the flood gates towards the exits.
Honestly, without the rain (and the 6 forced turnovers + scoring more points) we wouldn’t have won, but we did, so there’s that.
Boise State 26 BYU 17
1. Arizona 2014 (Jay-Train and Sperbeck oh my!)
Was there any doubt?
An 8-5 season and the loss of the most legendary coach in Bronco history left a mark on BSU pride. A blowout loss to Ole Miss and 14 point loss to Air Force didn’t exactly help morale in Bryan Harsin’s 2-2 debut. What ensued was nothing short of rocky. Yet battles with Nevada, Fresno, New Mexico, and SDSU kept finding the Broncos on top. Somewhere along the line, the boys from Boise took the Mountain West Championship. Armed with a #20 ranking in the first college football playoff ranking, the new system had gifted us, the highest ranked G5, a bid to a NY6 game.
It felt different going into the Fiesta Bowl as a 10-2 #20 ranked team. It wasn’t an undefeated top 10 team, but we were there, and that worked for us. Once the game started, it felt just right.
Jay Ajayi burst through the line for a 56 yard TD, 2 minutes into the game. Chaz Anderson did his best to 1-up Ajayi with a deep 57 yard TD catch of his own. To make sure every bit of Boise State magic had been summoned, a Statue of Liberty play had Ajayi scattering 20 yards in for a 21-0 start.
Arizona would respond with a score, but a Cleshawn Page interception the following Arizona possession gave the Broncos a short field to quickly respond. Surprisingly, that would be the last offensive TD scored by Boise State as the lead pushed to 28-7.
The only other TD for the game came on a 16 yard pick-six by Donte Deayon, who became the 3rd Bronco in 3 Fiesta Bowls to record a pick-six. (That’s Marty Tadman in 2007 and Brandyn Thompson in 2010)
Aside from that pick-six, the second half was mostly pain. Arizona slowly whittled away the lead as anxiety levels rose. Somehow along the line, with less than a minute to go in the game, Arizona had the ball in the redzone down only 8. But on 3rd and Goal with 12 seconds left, Anu Solomon rolled right, found no one home, and was met by Kamalei Correa whose sack let the clock bleed out.
Thomas Sperbeck finished with 199 receiving yards on the day, while Jay Ajayi had 3 TDs on 134 yards rushing. It gave the Broncos their 3rd NY6 victory, most among G5 teams, and 3 more than any Mountain West team.
Boise State 38 Arizona 30
No Hank Bachmeier means no problem in the Broncos’ 31-10 MW championship win over Hawaii. (This could just as easily go to the regular season 59-37 win with Chase Cord at the helm)
Michael Frisina hits the game winning FG with 1 minute left to take the Las Vegas Bowl 28-26.
Not even 5 turnovers would sink the #14 Broncos, whose blocked field goal sealed the 28-27 win.
Utah State 2018
#14 Utah State’s best team ever comes up short 33-24 on the Blue.
Canadian Bacon’s pick-six gives the the Broncos their lone TD in the 7-6 thriller