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November 25, 2006
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RENO, Nev. -It's not official yet, but all those orange-clad fans flowing onto the Mackay Stadium turf told the story: Boise State is BCS bound.
Ian Johnson ran for 147 yards and three touchdowns and Jared Zabransky passed for 299 yards to lead Boise State to a 38-7 win over Nevada on Saturday, all but wrapping up a spot in the Bowl Championship Series for the unbeaten Broncos.
Zabransky completed 20-of-27 passes, including a 45-yard TD to Legedu Naanee for the Broncos (12-0, 8-0 in the Western Athletic Conference), who are 39-1 in the WAC since 2002 and have won at least a share of the league title five years in a row.
They entered the day 11th in the BCS standings and have to finish No. 12 or better to automatically qualify for one of the big-money bowls. They would become only the second team from a non-BCS league to play in the BCS after Utah reached the 2004 Fiesta Bowl out of the Mountain West Conference.
The BCS bids go out Dec. 3. Expect Boise State to get an invite to the Fiesta Bowl to face the Big 12 champion.
Officials from the Fiesta and Orange bowls watched Saturday's game from the press box. About 4,000 orange-and-blue clad Bronco fans who made the trip from Boise rushed the field after the final gun, waving flags and banners and crowding around the team.
"This means everything on our pyramid is done," Johnson said. "We've had so many goals and we've knocked off every one."
Nevada (8-4, 4-3) entered the game leading the nation with a turnover margin of plus 15, but lost three fumbles in the first 24 minutes of the game - four on the game - and fell behind 17-0 at the half.
Naanee caught seven passes for 129 yards for the Broncos, who snapped Nevada's 10-game home winning streak and claimed their seventh consecutive victory over the Wolf Pack before a crowd of 25,506, the 10th largest in Mackay Stadium history.
Johnson, a sophomore who wore a flak jacket under his pads to protect a pair of cracked ribs, ran 31 times and set the school single-season record with 1,613 yards rushing. He broke the old mark of 1,611 set by Brock Forsey in 2002. He entered the day leading the nation in scoring, and now has 24 TDs.
"I got out there and forgot about the ribs," Johnson said. "I've played with broken ribs before... I just wanted to play hard for the team."
Robert Hubbard had 105 yards rushing for Nevada but Jeff Rowe was only 6-for-15 for 35 yards. Despite the loss, Nevada appears headed to one of the three bowls with WAC ties - the MPC Computers (at Boise, Dec. 31), Sheraton Hawaii Bowl (at Honolulu, Dec. 24) and New Mexico (at Albuquerque, Dec. 23).
Leading 17-0 at the half, Boise State opened the third quarter with an 80-yard touchdown drive, including 48 yards rushing on six carries by Johnson and wide receiver Vinny Perretta's 5-yard score off a direct snap from center.
The Broncos fans broke into a chant of "BCS, BCS" as Anthony Montgomery converted the extra point for a 24-0 lead at 10:13. Four minutes later, Zabranksy threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Naanee to push the lead to 31-0.
Nevada's only points came when Nick Hawthrone intercepted a screen pass and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown with 2:52 left in the third quarter to keep alive the Wolf Pack's streak of 316 games without being shutout, the longest in NCAA Division I.
The Broncos forced three Nevada fumbles in the first half and Johnson ended up scoring touchdowns after two of them enroute to a 17-0 halftime lead.
Zabransky opened the second quarter with a 72-yard scoring drive on 11 plays, including a 22-yard pass to Jerard Rabb, a successful quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1 to Nevada's 6 and Johnson's 6-yard touchdown run for a 10-0 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Austin Smith leveled kick returner Dwayne Sanders, forcing a fumble and recovering it at Nevada's 23. The Wolf Pack defense stiffened and held Boise State on another fourth-and-one to take possession at their own 14 but a scrambling Rowe fumbled and Kyle Gingg got the Broncos the ball back at the 4 to set up Johnson's 4-yard TD run 8:34 before the half.