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Monday, September 6, 2010
Broncos answer the call

By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com

LANDOVER, Md. -- Win two Fiesta Bowls and begin the season with a No. 3 ranking. Check.

Concoct the worst kind of neutral-site-in-name-only situation you can think of, like a New York lawyer in a Mississippi courtroom. Check.

Blow a 17-0 lead, fall behind 30-26, then win the game with the kind of two-minute touchdown drive that would make Peyton Manning get off the couch and bow with respect. Check. Check. And check out Boise State.

The Broncos faced down Virginia Tech, winning 33-30 when Kellen Moore threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Austin Pettis with 1:09 to play before 86,587 mostly hostile fans at FedEx Field.

Chris Petersen
Chris Petersen won't let this victory go to the heads of his Broncos players.

It was a game that exceeded the months of hype that preceded it, a game filled with early-season mistakes that could not defuse the kind of tension usually reserved for November. That's because Boise State is ranked No. 3 in the nation and, at 1-0, has plowed through the toughest part of its schedule. With this victory, the Broncos bought themselves national attention that will last as long as they keep winning.

When Boise State coach Chris Petersen hears such talk, it's all he can do to keep from putting his fingers in his ears.

"We live in such a cocoon anyway," said Petersen, who earned his 50th win in the opening game of his fifth season. "We don't even know that for the most part. We'll go back and our guys will go be in class tomorrow. They'll be there by 10:00. They'll come in and watch the tape and the coaches will go recruiting and we'll go practice again. I don't think they are going to be distracted by it. I think we've got enough maturity around here. I think they understand if they pay attention to that, we'll get beat."

Petersen's Broncos will keep their feet on the ground. But as of late Monday night, the Broncos have one foot in Boise and the other in Glendale, Ariz., where the BCS Championship Game will be played in four months and three days.

Yes, a lot has to happen. The Broncos have 11 more opponents that give out scholarships. Boise State needs Virginia Tech, supposedly its toughest opponent, to win a lot of games. The biggest Hokies fan club outside the commonwealth of Virginia just formed in the Treasure Valley of Idaho.

But if the Hokies' preseason ranking means anything, and if the victory Monday night stands the pummeling of a 12-game season, then the Broncos will be in very good shape come the first Sunday in December, when BCS bids are awarded.

But it's not just that Boise State won. It's the way that the Broncos did it. They rushed to a 17-0 lead, converting a fumble into a field goal and a blocked punt into a touchdown in the first 5:12 of the game. But Virginia Tech settled down and controlled the ball. Over the final three quarters, Boise State had the ball for fewer than 17 minutes.

The Broncos turned the ball over twice on their side of the field, allowing Virginia Tech to score touchdowns on drives of 39 and 31 yards and take a 21-20 lead in the third quarter. Three plays later, Boise State tailback D.J. Harper broke a month's worth of tackles on a 71-yard touchdown run to put the Broncos back in front, 26-21. Again Virginia Tech fought back, taking a 30-26 lead midway through the fourth quarter.

And then came that two-minute drive that actually started with 1:47 to play.

"That's exactly how we practice," Moore said. "We practice that every week. We practice clutch situations. This time, they gave us a little more time. We usually only practice with 1:30."

Kellen Moore
Kellen Moore's late-game magic was no accident.

Moore is a walking Staples button. After Mitch Burroughs returned a punt 25 yards to the Broncos' 44, Moore came out and completed 4 of 5 passes, for all 56 yards, in 38 seconds. That was easy.

"Kellen was amazing tonight," said Pettis, who had two touchdowns among his six catches for 73 yards. "Same ol' Kellen, calm, cool and collected no matter how big the situation was."

Virginia Tech senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who ran for 73 yards and passed for 186 yards and two touchdowns, got his chance to run a two-minute offense. He threw three incompletions and lost a yard scrambling.

If this type of agony feels familiar to Hokies fans, it's because they've been through it before. In the 2000 Sugar Bowl, the Hokies, with Michael Vick at quarterback, fell behind Florida State, 28-7, in the second quarter. Virginia Tech interrupted the rout to dominate the game, scoring 22 unanswered points to take a 29-28 lead into the fourth quarter. But the Seminoles won going away, 46-29.

Fast-forward 11 seasons. The Hokies didn't get blown out this time. But the best coach on the field in the first half wasn't Frank Beamer, the shoo-in Hall of Famer. And the best player on the field, from Prosser, Wash., couldn't get a scholarship offer from Washington State.

If the Broncos have one foot in Glendale, then Moore has one foot in New York, where the Heisman Trophy finalists gather on the second Saturday in December. Check.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.