Fresno State Football players looking to make their own Mountain West Championship memories

Stephen Hicks Image
Saturday, December 3, 2022
Fresno State Football players looking to make their own Mountain West Championship memories
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The Fresno State Football team has fought for this moment. The Bulldogs are back in the Mountain West Championship this Saturday and they are looking to create their own history.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- For the fifth time in the last 10 years, Fresno State is playing for the Mountain West championship.

Memories of Ronnie Rivers' walk-off touchdown in 2018 are still fresh for the team, but this squad hopes to create its own history and its own memories.

This week, they reflected on their last trip to the blue, which they left with a 1-4 record on the season.

Did the Bulldogs expect on October 8th to make a return trip with a Mountain West title at stake?

"No, I'm going to be honest, I didn't," said defensive tackle Leonard Payne. "It was hard to focus on that, but as we came back and everybody started coming back, we started coming back full as a team."

Among the Bulldogs missing in the first game at Boise was All-Mountain West safety Evan Williams.

"You know it sucked," Williams said. "We still had all our goals in front of us at that point, but in that moment, it feels like the whole world is on top of you. And I just remember having those conversations with Jake saying 'We gotta have another opportunity. We gotta have another chance to prove ourselves.'"

That chance comes Saturday, the first and last chance for Jalen Moreno-Cropper to win a conference championship with his hometown team.

"Definitely exciting," Moreno-Cropper said. "Being able to go through the losses, the ups and downs with my team, I think that's definitely something I'll cherish more, just knowing that when you lose, it builds character. We've seen what we were, as people and as athletes, and I feel like these last seven games, we've been able to show why we've been so humble."

Despite winning its last two over the 'Dogs, Boise State is looking for revenge for 2018.

"Got a lot of respect for them and who they are and what they do," said head coach Jeff Tedford. "Gonna be a great matchup. They handled us pretty well the last time out, and so we're hoping to improve on that."

The last time out, Fresno State didn't have its First-Team All-Mountain West quarterback. This time, they do.

"Seeing it and being there was great, but definitely gonna have a lot more fun strapping up this time and giving it a go," said Jake Haener.

It is the game we hoped for at the start of the season.

Fresno State and Boise State are playing for the Mountain West championship for the fourth time. Three of the four games will have been played on the blue.

Despite winning here just once back in 2018, despite losing this season by 20 points, the return of Haener and Williams has this team feeling they shouldn't be considered the underdog.

"Definitely not," said Moreno-Cropper. "I think that we're very capable of everything that we've accomplished thus far. Coming into the season, I knew we were going to be in the championship. I knew that every aspect of this team, every position on this team, we definitely have ball players all over the room, and we have the right coaches to put us in those positions, so I feel like since the first game of the season, since the offseason, since January, since we started this offseason, I felt like this is the position we should have been in."

For the 14 seniors honored last week, including Williams, Saturday presents a chance to stamp their legacy.

"We want to leave a legacy on this place," Williams said. "The 2022 team wants to be remembered for something. I remember having a couple meetings just with the guys, not even with coaches, just with the guys in the little rooms, just talking about it. Everybody sharing their feelings, their emotions and just how fed up we were with our current position. It wasn't much of a turning point as much as people making the decision to every day get a little bit better, and those days stack and we've been able to come on a little winning streak now and things are turning around to say the least. But it all starts with that one-at-a-time mindset of every play, just getting that 1% better, and it's effective over the long run."

For Haener, a win Saturday would accomplish his top goal, which is written above all others on a list he keeps beside his bed.

"I just think that it would check off another box on my goals and one of my missions, and that was to bring a conference title to Fresno State," Haener said. "I think everybody in that locker room is deserving of it and sometimes deserving doesn't matter, but I think that these guys have worked really hard to put out a really solid performance on Saturday and do everything we can to get it done."

On the other side, the Broncos fired their offensive coordinator and saw their starting quarterback enter the transfer portal in September.

Since then, they've won seven of their last eight.

Fresno State's season looked to be over after a litany of injuries in a 45-17 to No. 4 USC.

With Haener, Williams and others back, and the 'Dogs riding a seven-game winning streak and a wave of confidence, it should be an incredible matchup.

Kickoff is Saturday at 1 p.m. Fresno State is pegged as three-point underdogs.