Nathan Keil | Sports Writer
Junior wide receiver KD Cannon caught 14 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns to help lead Baylor to its second consecutive bowl victory, 31-12 over Boise State in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl in Phoenix.
“The one thing that was really fun for me tonight is our kids enjoyed it,” said acting head coach Jim Grobe. “You know, a lot of smiles on the sideline. A lot of kids playing hard and enjoying being out on the field. Our guys looked like kids out there playing, and that was fun.”
“To go out and lose the last six games and then come in and win this game — I’m sorry about that — but win this game, I think it’s huge going into next year,” said freshman quarterback Zach Smith. “We’re going to have a lot of confidence knowing what we can do, and we just showed a little bit of what we can do tonight. So that’s huge going into next year, and we’re going to build on it.”
With Boise State driving deep into Baylor territory, junior nickel back Travon Blanchard intercepted sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien at the ten-yard line, turning the momentum in favor of the Bears.
Freshman quarterback Zach Smith found Cannon twice on the ensuing drive, once for 49 yards and a 30-yard scoring strike in which Cannon went up over the Bronco defender to haul in the pass.
“I go to him on some plays and he gets the job done,” Smith said. “He’s a big play-maker, so I go to him and he usually gets the job done.”
Smith then found Cannon again running lose in the Boise State secondary on its next drive, this one a 68-yard scoring strike.
Baylor’s offense continued to enforce its will upon the Broncos defense. The Bears racked up 515 yards of total offense. Smith finished 28 for 39 for 375 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore wide receiver Ishmael Zamora hauled in the final touchdown pass from Smith, a 14-yard strike that put the Bears up 31-6 in the fourth quarter.
As efficient as Smith and the Baylor offense was, the Bears’ defense was equally as efficient if not more so. Boise State was able to consistently move the ball down the field, but when the stakes were the highest, the Bears’ defense stepped up and made plays.
Baylor forced three turnovers, including interceptions by Blanchard and senior safety Orion Stewart, and a fumble recovered by Stewart as well. After each turnover, Smith and the offense converted the takeaways into touchdowns. The Bears sacked Rypien four times and limited him to 305 yards passing.
Baylor also bottled up standout junior running back Jeremy McNichols in his final game in a Boise State uniform. The Bears limited him to 46 yards on 19 carries and kept him out of the end zone, ending his streak of 24 consecutive games with a rushing touchdown.
“This whole week preparing, we’ve been preparing for the run game. They’ve done a great job this season. Their running back has done an amazing job. He’s one of the best,” said senior Aiavion Edwards. “And we knew we had to stop that, and once we did that, I think that it made our game plan and made their game plan a lot simpler.”
Boise State’s lone touchdown came on a 23-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Cedrick Wilson with less than two minutes remaining in the game.
Boise State finished the season 10-3 after losing its final two games. Baylor finished 7-6 as it sends off Grobe back into retirement and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles to Florida Atlantic with a win as well as welcome Matt Rhule into the spotlight that comes with Baylor football.
“I just can’t begin to tell you what an honor it’s been to be at Baylor,” Grobe said. “Baylor Nation is fantastic and I couldn’t be more proud.”