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January 2, 2011LAS VEGAS (AP) Boise State will have to live forever with the big one that got away. Finishing the season looking like one of the best teams in the nation will at least help ease some of the short-term pain of what might have been.
Flat at first in a game they didn't seem to want to be in, the 10th-ranked Broncos were dominant the rest of the way Wednesday night in dismantling No. 20 Utah 26-3.
It wasn't the Rose Bowl, not even close. But Boise State has won every game but one over the past two years by taking care of business when it had to, and the MAACO Bowl was no exception.
"We had hoped it would end like this because Utah's a great team," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "If we couldn't get to a BCS game we wanted to play a team like Utah that's as good as any team out there."
Utah didn't look all that good on a damp night in this gambling city, but that may not have been the Utes' fault. Boise State simply dominated on defense and wasn't about to let Utah back into the game after its offense finally came to life.
Once Doug Martin raced 84 yards up the middle to give Boise State the lead for good in the second quarter, the MAACO Bowl didn't seem so bad after all.
"It was a startup for our team," Martin said. "A momentum changer."
The victory was small consolation for Boise State, which missed out on a possible Rose Bowl appearance on two missed field goals last month against Nevada. But the dominating win against a team that was at one time ranked No. 6 in the country was a reminder why the Broncos rode high in the polls before suffering their only loss in two years.
It may also be a reminder for next year's poll voters not to write off a team that won every game over the last two years except the one that really mattered. The loss to Nevada not only cost the school millions of dollars in a BCS bowl bid, but some of the grudging respect others had finally given Boise State.
"This is a team that was the top-ranked team that was setting itself up for a run at the national championship," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "If they beat Reno (Nevada) and if Auburn or Oregon stumble, they're in that game."
Neither of those things happened, of course, forcing Boise State to go begging for a decent bowl bid despite its gaudy record. The Broncos landed in Vegas, where the bookies quickly established them as 17-point favorites.
But Boise State came out flat and seemed disinterested. Kellen Moore fumbled on the third play of the game and the Broncos turned the ball over three times and were trailing 3-0 before Martin finally scampered up the middle and then headed down the left sideline for the score on the first play from scrimmage following a Utah punt.
"It was huge," Moore said. "We hadn't been executing at a high level with our offense. Anytime you get a one-play drive that results in a touchdown, it's a huge momentum swing and it gets everyone going."
"It kind of broke our back," Whittingham said. "I was thinking about a fake punt the play before that."
Martin's run came after a mistake-prone first quarter in which Boise State kept giving the ball away and making costly errors. Utah wasn't much better, and when the Broncos began finding their stride the game quickly turned one-sided.
Moore, who fumbled on the third play of the game and threw an interception later in the first quarter, rebounded with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Shoemaker in the closing seconds of the first half to give Boise State a 16-3 lead. He added another 18-yard TD pass to Austin Pettis in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Boise State's defense held Utah to just 200 total yards, forcing the Utes to punt again and again. The Broncos shut down both the running and passing game, and Utah never scored after its opening field goal.
Utah didn't help itself with a comedy of dropped passes, fumbles and penalties.
"When you play a team the caliber of Boise State you have to play better than we did tonight," Whittingham said.
Boise State (12-1), which had been ranked as high as No. 2 this year, early on did not resemble the team that was everyone's favorite BCS buster. That changed after Martin's run, with the Broncos taking control on both sides of the ball against a team that was a BCS team itself two years ago and had won nine straight bowl games.
Moore, who finished fourth in Heisman voting earlier this month, finished with impressive numbers despite his rocky start. He completed 28 of 38 passes, including 12 to Pettis, who was playing the final game of a college career in which his team won 51 of 53 games.
Boise State kicker Kyle Brotzman, whose chip-shot misses cost his team a BCS bowl game and his school dearly, became the all-time NCAA leader in points kicking with a 29-yard field goal in the second quarter. Brotzman added another field goal in the fourth quarter but had a mixed night, getting one attempt blocked and dropping a pass while wide open on a fake punt.
The game was the last for Utah (10-3) before going into the Pac-12 Conference, where the Utes can play for an automatic big bowl bid.
Boise State is also switching conferences, heading to the Mountain West, where the Broncos still will have to impress both voters and computers to get a Bowl Championship Series bid.