The offenses barely had a chance to rest before the other team responded with a big play. It was a classic game of "can you top this?" between Boise State and Fresno State, with the Broncos digging up just enough game-busters to win their WAC opener.
Jeremy Avery had three plays of longer than 60 yards and Titus Young scored two touchdowns, providing just some of the many highlight-reel plays in No. 10 Boise State's 51-34 victory Friday night.
The teams combined for 85 points, 987 yards and eight touchdown drives of three plays or fewer in an entertaining game that brought back memories of the old wide-open WAC.
"A lot of playmakers making plays out there," Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore said. "Good running backs on both sides making plays out of nothing and breaking tackles here and there."
The biggest stars of the game were Avery, with his 269 yards from scrimmage, and Fresno State's Ryan Mathews, who had three touchdown runs of longer than 60 yards and gained 234 in all.
Avery was involved in the two momentum-shifting plays that ended up being the difference for the Broncos (3-0, 1-0). He ran 74 yards before fumbling at the 1-yard line, only to be saved when Young dove on the loose ball just before it would have rolled out of the end zone for a touchback.
Then one play after Marvin Haynes dropped a potential interception for the Bulldogs (1-2, 0-1), Avery took a swing pass from Moore and went 67 yards for the score that gave Boise State a 48-34 lead.
"We knew we had to answer back as an offense," Avery said. "We didn't let it get to us. We knew we had a high-powered offense and could do the same thing. We gathered our troops and we all clicked. When we all clicked there was no stopping us."
Those plays helped the Broncos win for the 57th time in its their past 59 conference games and keep alive their hopes for making it back to a Bowl Championship Series game.
Fresno State fought back from an early 24-3 deficit but still lost its 10th straight game against ranked teams. The skid started with a 50-42 loss to No. 1 Southern California in 2005. This game provided the appropriate bookend.
"Every time we closed the gap, Boise, to their credit, would make a big play," Bulldogs coach Pat Hill said. "When it looked like we would have a chance to get the ball back, bang, they'd make a play."
With the Friday night stage to themselves, Boise State and Fresno State provided enough big plays to last the weekend. The Broncos had two 77-yard kickoff returns, an interception return for a touchdown, a 60-yard touchdown run by D.J. Harper, and the big plays from Avery.
Fresno State had plenty of big plays of its own, starting with the touchdown runs of 69, 60 and 68 yards by Mathews.
"When you can't control the run game, it's not a good feeling," Broncos coach Chris Petersen said. "We had that going on for both sides. We had guys in position, we just didn't tackle well. That's the bottom line. We're really fortunate we could miss tackles like that, give up that many yards and points and still come up with the 'W.'"
Chastin West made a leaping 41-yard catch that was nearly an interception as Brandyn Thompson tried to wrestle the ball away and Devon Wylie made an acrobatic 21-yard touchdown catch from Ryan Colburn on the next play.
The rout appeared to be on early for Boise State. Winston Venable returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown on the third play of the game. The Broncos added a field goal by Kyle Brotzman and the long run by Harper to make it 17-0 before Fresno State even managed a first down. Harper finished with 107 yards rushing before leaving with an undisclosed injury.
That extended Boise State's run of consecutive points against Fresno State to 68, dating to late in the second quarter of last year's 61-10 Broncos' victory. The lead grew to 24-3 before Mathews single-handedly brought the Bulldogs back with two long touchdowns that cut Boise State's halftime lead to 24-17.