There were moments when Phillip Thomas thought Fresno State would rally and finally beat Boise State.
Like many of his teammates, the senior safety has never celebrated a victory over Boise State, and in recent years the matchups have been blowouts.
But things seemed different against No. 24 Boise State Saturday. The defense was keeping the game close and, at times, the Bulldogs' new no-huddle, spread offense was moving the ball effectively.
Ultimately, the Bulldogs (4-3, 2-1 Mountain West) were victimized by a couple of turnovers, costly penalties and an assortment of other miscues in a 20-10 loss.
"It hurts. It hurts to go through your career and never beat this team," said Thomas, who led his team with nine tackles. "I always wanted to beat them. I always wanted to compete with this team because they have been good over the years. Take away all the penalties, take away all of the mental mistakes and mental lapses and we have a different outcome. Those guys are good over there. They executed and out played us and they found a way to win the game. We just know that we could play better."
The loss dropped Fresno State out of a tie for first in the conference was the seventh straight defeat against the Broncos.
Bronco running back D.J. Harper led the way by rushing for 122 yards and a touchdown and Joe Southwick threw for another score. But it was the Broncos defense that made things difficult for Derek Carr and the rest of the Fresno State offense.
The Broncos held Fresno State scoreless in the first half, the fourth straight game the Broncos defense has held foes scoreless in the first two quarters.
The Broncos also squelched a scoring drive in the opening minutes of the third quarter with an interception, forced a fumble on another possession midway through the fourth quarter and held Robbie Rouse to 77 yards rushing on 25 carries.
Fresno State got on the board late in the third quarter when Quentin Breshears nailed a 39-yard field goal to pull within 20-3.
The Fresno State offense moved the ball well in the second half behind a mix of passing and running from Rouse. The Bulldogs finally scored a touchdown late in the fourth quarter when Carr capped a nine-play, 80-yard drive by lobbing a 3-yard pass to Davante Evans.
But the Bulldogs failed to capitalize on the ensuing onside kick when Boise's Geraldo Boldewijn leapt high to bat the ball out of bounds.
Carr was 29 of 43 for 266 yards, but his lone interception in Boise State territory squelched a scoring drive early in the third quarter. He also fumbled the ball while scrambling late in the fourth quarter deep in Bulldog territory.
The Bulldogs amassed 322 yards of total offense and were penalized nine times for 85 yards. One of the most costly penalties came in the first half when an interception by Sean Alston was called back by a roughing the passer penalty. The mistake prolonged a Boise State drive that ended with the first of two 19-yard field goals by Michael Frisina.
"We hurt ourselves," said coach Tim DeRuyter. "We had delay of game penalties, we had false starts. Defensively, we extended their drives with a hit to the helmet.
"We have to take advantages of our opportunities, and we didn't today," he said. "We had the opportunity to play the 22 ranked team in the country in their own backyard. We had the opportunity to go 3-0 in this conference, and now we are going to have to scratch and claw to get back into this race and hope for some help from somewhere else."
The Bulldogs play at home Oct 20 against Wyoming.