Jay Ajayi, No. 20 Boise State upset No. 10 Arizona in Fiesta Bowl
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Boise State Broncos are no longer just trick-play ponies.
They did score a touchdown on a Statue of Liberty play. This was the Fiesta Bowl, so of course they did.
But once the tricks were used up and the offensive fireworks dulled, Boise State had to grind out this Fiesta Bowl victory with its defense.
Donte Deayon returned an interception for a touchdown in third quarter and sack specialist Kamalei Correa had his biggest takedown of the season on the game’s final play, lifting No. 20 Boise State to a 38-30 victory over No. 10 Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl on Wednesday.
"They hit us, we stiffened up and came up a winner," Boise State linebacker Tanner Vallejo said.
Boise State (12-2) lived up to its unpredictable reputation in the first quarter, pulling off the Statue of Liberty play while racing to a 21-0 lead in the opening 10 minutes.
Jay Ajayi scored two of his three touchdowns in the first quarter — one on the trick play — and finished with 134 yards rushing. Grant Hedrick was perfect through his first 14 passes and threw for 304 yards and a touchdown. Thomas Sperbeck had 12 catches for 199 yards.
The bulk of those numbers came in the first half, though. Once the second rolled around, the Broncos bogged down, allowing Arizona to cut the lead to eight in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats had a final chance, using their quick-strike offense to march down the field, but Correa sacked Anu Solomon at Boise State’s 10-yard on the game’s last play.
The Broncos charged onto the field after Correa’s sack, celebrating a successful first season under coach Bryan Harsin with their third Fiesta Bowl victory.
Not bad for a team supposedly in transition.
"People think Boise State isn’t a powerhouse program," said Broncos receiver Chaz Anderson, who had a 57-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter. "It feels good to be back to where we were in the past."
Arizona (10-4) was overrun by Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship and seemed to still have a hangover against the Broncos.
Once the Wildcats shook out of their daze, they shut down Boise State’s high-powered offense and began chipping away at the lead.
The problem was that they needed to take bigger chunks.
Instead of scoring touchdowns, Arizona mostly dinked its way back, settling for three field goals after driving deep into Boise State’s end.
Turnovers also hurt. Solomon threw for 335 yards and a touchdown, but had two interceptions that led to touchdowns for Boise State, including Deayon’s pick six late in the third quarter.
"Everything wasn’t going our way," the redshirt freshman said. "I was overthinking things and I just can’t do that. I played like a freshman today."
Of all the non-playoff bowls, the Fiesta had one of the most intriguing matchups: Two prolific offenses, two programs trying to make a statement with a big-bowl win.
It certainly lived up to the billing at the start.
The big-play Broncos burst out of the gate with long touchdowns on their first two drives: a 56-yard touchdown run by Ajayi and a 57-yard TD hookup between Hedrick and Anderson.
No Fiesta Bowl with Boise State would be complete without a Statue of Liberty play, so the Broncos did that, too. Ajayi scored on it, taking a behind-the-back handoff from Hedrick, then stiff-arming Arizona cornerback Cam Denson to the ground on the 16-yard run.
"It was fun to have that play in this game as well," Harsin said.
Arizona was finally able catch its breath and marched in for a 1-yard touchdown dive by Solomon.
But just when the Wildcats looked like they were back in it, Solomon threw an interception, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by Ajayi that made it 28-7.
Nick Wilson scored on a 1-yard run in the second quarter, but Boise State still led 31-17 at halftime after Hedrick completed 17 of 18 passes for 272 yards.
Boise State had 2 yards on 14 plays in the third quarter, but took an 18-point lead Deayon’s interception return.
Solomon made up for it right after that, scrambling to the right before finding Samjie Grant for a 51-yard touchdown strike that made it 38-27 heading into the fourth quarter.
Arizona cut it to eight on Casey Skowron’s third field goal, from 32 yards, but failed to score on its final two drives.
"Our guys (have) come back from big deficits before," Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez said. "(We’ve) just got to play better. We did at times, but not good enough to win it."