Backup running backs lead Boise State past Fresno State

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) -- No tricks, no shticks, no late dramatics.

Boise State saved its famous flair for bigger stages. The Broncos needed nothing fancier than two smashmouth freshman tailbacks and a sturdy defense to reclaim their bragging rights at Bulldog Stadium.

Jeremy Avery led Boise State's dominant ground attack with a career-high 124 yards and three touchdowns, and the Broncos avenged their only conference loss in the last half-decade with a 34-21 victory over Fresno State on Friday night.

D.J. Harper had a career-best 153 yards and a score for the five-time Western Athletic Conference champion Broncos (7-1, 4-0), whose sole loss in their last 44 WAC games was a 27-7 defeat in Fresno in 2005.

"It's a huge hurdle in the WAC championship, especially at their place with the bitter taste after getting dominated two years ago," safety Marty Tadman said.

The Fresno crowd has held a particular distaste for the Broncos ever since Boise State ended the Bulldogs' unbeaten season here in 2001. Fans packed the stadium in thousands of identical black T-shirts, but they could only watch in pain while the jubilant Broncos ran up the concrete walkway to their locker room after a sound victory.

"That walk is so fun after you just beat them," Tadman said. "You just walk and smile, and they can't say anything except, 'Take your potatoes and go home,' or something stupid like that. ... You want to say every game is the same, but this is one we were way up for."

Even with Ian Johnson sidelined by a bruised kidney, the Broncos' freshman tandem patiently wore down the equally young Bulldogs. Avery and Harper kept a running tally of their respective yards on the sideline -- perhaps because the Fresno State defense sometimes wasn't providing enough competition to keep them motivated.

"We both ran hard, that's all it was," Avery said. "There's enough balls to go around. Everybody's going to get a turn with the ball. I feel great coming into their stadium, where they've got a great crowd, and pulling it out."

Boise State, which trounced the Bulldogs in Idaho last year during its undefeated season, controlled its latest trip to the Central Valley with 282 yards from its relentless ground game.

"We run the ball. That's what we do," Broncos coach Chris Petersen said. "It's nice when you can get that right out of the gate like we did tonight."

Clifton Smith returned a punt 65 yards for a score for Fresno State (5-3, 4-1), which hoped to signal its return to the national stage with another win over last season's BCS darlings. Instead, the Bulldogs saw just how far they must go to rejoin Boise State and Hawaii atop the conference.

"If you're going to win this league, you've got to go through Boise State," Bulldogs coach Pat Hill said. "I think we're closing the gap, but we haven't closed it yet."

After the clubs scored two touchdowns apiece in a wild first quarter, Boise State's defense buckled down. The Broncos shut out Fresno State for nearly 47 minutes between the Bulldogs' opening drive and Marlon Moore's acrobatic TD catch with 8:13 to play.

Just six days after traveling to Louisiana Tech for a tough victory, the Broncos didn't seem exhausted by their road swing.

"This is honestly the most fun game I've played all season," Tadman said. "Our intensity and our passion overcame our soreness."

Neither program has been the same since Fresno State's cathartic victory in 2005. Boise State has lost only one game since then, while Fresno State fell back in the WAC pack, slipping to its worst season in nearly three decades in 2006 before getting it together this fall.

Both teams played without their starting tailbacks. Johnson, the Broncos' Fiesta Bowl star, missed his second straight game, while Fresno State's Lonyae Miller has a knee injury.

But Boise State's backups were more than the Bulldogs could handle. Harper broke a 49-yard run on the Broncos' opening drive, and Boise State had 200 yards rushing midway through the second quarter.

Tom Brandstater passed for 263 yards for the Bulldogs, while Boise State's Taylor Tharp had 158 yards passing in a conservative game plan.

"They're a great running team, always have been," Hill said. "That was a short football game."