BOISE, Idaho (AP) Boise State's hopes for a perfect season and a BCS reward faded when freshman kicker Dan Goodale's last-second field goal attempt sailed wide right of the uprights.
But the Broncos' troubles in a 36-35 upset loss to TCU on Saturday began long before that final play, from a series of missed opportunities and miscues to the absence of some key players due to an injury bug that has plagued the team all season.
"There are a lot of different guys who are a part of this team," said coach Chris Petersen, trying to deflect blame from Goodale.
"That's a key play that you want to make, but there are so many other plays that if we could've made, we wouldn't be in that situation. I don't think we can just focus on the ending," Petersen said.
What has ended is another run for a big money BCS game, much in the same way it did a year ago when Kyle Brotzman missed a game-winning field goal near the end of regulation and another in overtime in a crushing loss 34-31 loss at Nevada. Saturday's loss also dropped Boise State five spots to No. 10 in The Associated Press Top 25 on Sunday.
Now, the postseason itinerary for Boise State (8-1, 3-1 Mountain West Conference) includes destinations such as the MAACO Bowl in Las Vegas or the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego - venues the Broncos have been before, but are ultimately considered letdowns for a team that now starts each season thinking bigger.
The Broncos travel to San Diego State on Saturday before closing out with home games against Wyoming and New Mexico, a lineup that plays in their favor - barring any emotional meltdowns.
"We've got a lot of football left to play, so what we have to do is just clean up the things that aren't where we want to be right now," Petersen said.
Still, some fixes may be beyond a coach's control.
The Broncos were hobbled Saturday by injuries to some key players and the youth and inexperience of their replacements. Credit TCU coaches and quarterback Casey Pachall for targeting the Broncos' weaknesses and taking advantage early and often.
But the Broncos' pass rush was non-existent and didn't register a single sack in the absence of all-conference lineman Billy Winn, who didn't play until late in the game because of an injured foot.
The defense was also forced to play most of the game with two backup cornerbacks: freshman Lee Hightower and sophomore Quaylon Ewing-Burton. Both were thrust into the lineup after starters Jamar Taylor and Ebo Makinde left with injuries. The secondary was already playing without its best pass defender, cornerback Jerrell Gavens, who is out for the season.
From the start, Pachall and the fast and physical TCU receiving corps proved way too much for Boise State's underclassmen.
Pachall threw for a career-best 473 yards passing and five touchdowns, including scores of 75, 74 and 69 yards in the first half. Down the stretch, TCU receivers used their experience and size to outmaneuver or outleap Broncos defenders, most notably Brandon Carter's 25-yard, leaping touchdown grab over a defender that brought the Horned Frogs within 35-34, and the ensuing 2-point conversion catch and run by Josh Boyce that put TCU in front.
"We knew they had been banged up at corner," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "We knew we weren't going to be able to drive on that defense, so we were going to have to create some big plays."
On the other side of the ball, Boise State played without its best running back, Doug Martin, who was nursing a leg injured against UNLV. His replacement, D.J. Harper, had a great day, rushing for 125 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. But Harper also left the game with an injured ankle when the Broncos were trying to kill the clock and pad the score.
His replacement, Drew Wright, who had 36 rushing attempts all season, fumbled on his third carry and TCU recovered. Pachall marched the Horned Frogs down the field for a touchdown and go-ahead 2-point conversion.
Petersen refused to blame the circumstances or to discuss the significance of the loss, which also snapped Boise State's 35-game home winning streak and spoiled chances of winning the MWC title in their first - and possibly last - year in the league.
"You can always keep tracing it back, there's always one more play," he said. "There's always these key ones that jump out, but our defense has to make a stop at the end. There's just so many different plays."