BOISE — If penalties, dropped passes and an inability to slow the Air Force rushing attack weren’t bad enough, the Boise State football team found a new way to lose Saturday night.
On the biggest play of the game, the Broncos had just 10 players on the field.
Boise State got stuffed on fourth-and-goal while playing a man short early in the fourth quarter and the Broncos were unable to overcome a number of other issues on both sides of the ball in a surely disappointing 24-17 loss at Albertsons Stadium.
The loss was the third in a row for the Broncos on the once vaunted blue turf. It’s the first time since 1996, Boise State’s first year at the FBS level, that the Broncos lost three consecutive home games. They’ve now lost four of six home games dating back to last season.
"Frustrated, disappointed, angry - I'm sure you could name them all," defensive tackle Scott Matlock said. "That's not what we wanted to do and obviously they played better than we did and we lost the football game.
"We have to be more disciplined, more detailed and focus on those details and we have to compete. We're very disappointed because we know that's not who we are nor is that the standard here at Boise State."
There are plenty of plays and stats the Broncos will be able to point to as to why they lost the game. But maybe none more so than a moment late in the third quarter with Boise State trailing 21-14.
Boise State had fourth-and-goal at the 2 yard line with a chance to tie the game. But in the most important play of the game, two yards from a game-tying score, the Broncos didn’t even have 11 players on the field.
After calling time out to think about the play, the offense ran just 10 players on the field. Nobody realized it and Bachmeier was knocked out of bounds short of the end zone on a scramble attempt after he couldn’t find an open receiver — one of whom was presumably standing on the sidelines by mistake.
"You can count to 10. There was only 10," coach Andy Avalos said tersely to a question about not having 11 players on the field.
Asked how that can happen in a spot like that, Avalos said, "There's no question that's a critical error in that situation. That's my fault and I've got to make sure there's 11 guys that run on the field."
As bad as it was, the Broncos were still set to get the ball back trailing just 21-14 with five minutes left — but an Air Force punt bounced off the elbow of Boise State’s Kekaula Kaniho and was recovered by the Falcons inside the 20-yard line.
Air Force added a short field goal to go up by 10 points, but the Broncos somehow kicked a field goal and recovered an onside kick in the final minute to have a shot trailing by just seven.
But Hank Bachmeier’s interception ended any chance at a comeback and those still in the stadium headed for the exits.
"Obviously it's not a great feeling," wide receiver Stefan Cobbs said. "We had some self-inflicted wounds. We have to clean some stuff up."
Boise State was riding high with momentum after an impressive upset win at No. 10 BYU last week. But that all came to a crashing halt as the Broncos failed in yet another attempt at their first two-game winning streak of the season.
Air Force rushed for 307 yards and Boise State couldn’t stay out of its own way as the Broncos dropped to 1-2 in the Mountain West. Air Force essentially now has a two-game lead on the Broncos with five to play.
Boise State was whistled for a whopping eight penalties for 75 yards.
It's the first time since 1997 Boise State is under .500 this late in the season - another unwanted reference to the Houston Nutt era.
Like he has several times this season, Avalos referenced issues with the Broncos' preparation in the days leading up to the game.
"If we handle things properly, we're not late to meetings and stuff during the week and maybe we have better consistency throughout the course of the week," Avalos said. "Those are the things you learn when you come to Boise State. Those are the things we're working to reestablish here. All those little things become big things. "
Asked to clarify if players were late to meetings this week, Avalos said simply, "we're moving on."
The Broncos won the toss and took the ball first. The move paid off as Bachmeier found Cobbs for an 8-yard touchdown to put the Broncos up 7-0.
But Air Force responded with a methodical 14-play drive, all of which were runs, and evened the score at 7-7 on a 4-yard rush from Brad Roberts with 4:29 left in the first quarter.
After a Boise State drive stalled and the Broncos had to punt, the Falcons used another long drive — this one 10 plays for 76 yards — to go up 14-7 on a 25-yard run from the quarterback Daniels early in the second quarter.
The Broncos answered, and a nifty stiff arm from Andrew Van Buren led to an 11-yard touchdown run that evened the score at 14.
There was no slowing Air Force though, at least not yet. The Falcons rolled off a third-straight drive of 75-plus yards and went up 21-14 on a one-yard touchdown run from Roberts with 6:12 left in the half.
Boise State had to punt on its next possession, but the defense finally forced Air Force into a punt in the final minute of the half to avoid falling behind by two scores.
Air Force got the ball to start the second half leading 21-14. Needing a stop in the worst way, Boise State’s defense actually got two of them — the Broncos forced two straight three-and-outs to start the third quarter.
That led to the failed fourth-down attempt, which proved costly.
Air Force took possession and looked to take command of the game by going up two scores. Boise State’s defense held tough in the red zone but the Falcons still had a 30-yard field goal attempt to take a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
The 30-yard attempt somehow sailed right. And the Broncos had life.
But the Broncos lost 18 yards on a backwards fumble from Bachmeier and they were forced to punt again. Air Force took over at its own 23-yard line with 9:33 left, again with a chance to drain the clock and put the game away.
Boise State forced the punt it needed, but Kaniho couldn’t get out of the way and Air Force recovered. The field goal put them up by 10 with 2:49.
The Broncos had a shot late, but instead suffered another puzzling, rare home loss.
Maybe the best news? Boise State can't lose next week. The Broncos have a bye before returning to action Oct. 30 at Colorado State.
"There's a lot of things we need to continue to improve on, a lot of guys we have to get healthy, and there's a lot of things we obviously have to do a much better job of consistently so we don't have these lulls," Avalos said.
"I know in due time if we reestablish this foundation and get back to doing things more consistently, the outcomes we want will come."