BOISE — There was a time when BYU and Boise State forged national reputations for prolific quarterbacks and high-scoring offenses.
But on Thursday night at Bronco Stadium, that was all just a distant memory, as both offenses wallowed in ineptitude.
This one was all about the defenses — featuring a memorable goal line stand by the Cougars, and five takeaways by the Broncos.
No, this is not what ESPN had in mind.
In the end, No. 24 Boise State defeated BYU, 7-6, in front of a national television audience and the largest crowd, 36,864, to witness a game at Bronco Stadium.
Trailing 7-0 late in the fourth quarter, BYU finally put together a long drive — marching 95 yards — and scored its only touchdown on a four-yard run by Taysom Hill with 3:37 remaining in the game to cut the deficit to one.
Instead of trying to tie the score with an extra point, coach Bronco Mendenhall decided to go for a potential game-winning two-point conversion. But Hill's pass intended for Cody Hoffman was tipped and fell incomplete in the end zone.
"It's up to coach Mendenhall," said Hill said of the decision to go for two. "We got the call and we did our best to execute. It's a tough environment and we had the momentum there. So I don't blame coach Mendenhall for doing it. It's a tough break."
From there, Boise State (2-1) ran out the clock and claimed the victory.
After a scoreless tie at intermission, BYU (2-2) turned the ball over on its first three possessions of the third quarter.
Yet, over and over again, the BYU defense kept the Cougars in the game. The Cougar defense, and special teams, stopped Boise State five times on fourth down.
"Our mindset is, whatever situation we're in, we go take care of business," said linebacker Spencer Hadley.
Boise State gained 261 yards of total offense, compared to just 200 for the Cougars. Riley Nelson completed 4-of-9 passes for 19 yards and three interceptions before being replaced by Hill in the third quarter. Hill was 4-of-10 for 42 yards, and he ran 12 times for 72 yards.
Mendenhall said Nelson is still BYU's starting quarterback.
In the meantime, the Cougar defense may sue for lack of support. In the past two games, BYU has held its opponent to fewer than 300 yards, but no wins to show for it.
"It's frustrating, I'll be honest," Hadley said. "At the same time, we didn't create enough turnovers. There are things we can do better to help this team. There's no pointing fingers, no animosity toward the offense."
This marked the first time the Broncos failed to score an offensive touchdown at home since becoming an FBS team in 1996.
Fittingly, the first score of the game was by the defense. Boise State got on the scoreboard with 13:24 remaining in the third quarter when defensive tackle Mike Atkinson picked off Nelson and chugged into the end zone to make it 7-0 for the Broncos.
Boise State took the ball away on BYU's next drive when J.D. Falslev tipped a Nelson pass that was intercepted by Jeremy Ioane. On their next possession, with 8:19 left in the third quarter, Hill replaced Nelson at the Cougar 1-yard line. On first down, Michael Alisa fumbled and the Broncos recovered.
Amazingly, Boise State didn't score. BYU's defense staged a remarkable goal line stand on a series that started at the 1-yard line, to keep the game at 7-0.
"When you come up with a stand like that, let me put it this way — I'll never forget the guys that were on the field during those four plays," Hadley said. "That sticks with you forever."
In the first half, the two teams battled to a scoreless tie, and BYU had just 68 yards of total offense and 19 yards passing.
While BYU's defense shined, Cougar punter Riley Stephenson proved to be the biggest weapon on the field. His first two punts of the game traveled 57 and 56 yards, respectively, and two of his first three pinned Boise State inside its own 20-yard line. By flipping the field, Stephenson gave the Cougars a shot to win the game.
BYU's defense rose to the occasion time and time again, such as Ansah stopping a fake punt attempt at the BSU 22-yard line in the first half.
But the Cougars continually stumbled. On third-and-1 from the Boise State 2-yard line, offensive lineman Ryker Mathews was whistled for a chop block, pushing BYU back to the 16-yard line. One play later, Jamar Taylor picked off Nelson.
That was as close as the Cougars came to the end zone in the first half.79 comments on this story
The Broncos weren't much better. After a missed 33-yard field goal on its second drive, Boise State's offense stalled. Twice the Broncos opted to go for it on fourth down deep inside BYU territory, but failed to convert.
Meanwhile, on the Cougars' second possession of the second quarter, Nelson was hit from behind by Taylor and fumbled the ball, and BSU's Demarcus Lawrence recovered.
BYU hosts Hawaii next Friday (6 p.m., MDT, ESPN).
EXTRA POINTS: BYU's initial first down of the game came late in the first quarter on a keeper by Hill. Boise State is now 76-3 at home since 2000. Boise State allowed its first sack of the season in the second quarter when Ansah got to Southwick for a five-yard loss. The Broncos now lead the all-time series against BYU, 3-0, including victories in 2003 and 2004.