RENO - It never pays to leave a Nevada Wolf Pack football game early.
The Wolf Pack provided yet another fantastic finish Saturday night only this time it didn't pay off in a dramatic victory as the San Diego State Aztecs came away with a stunning 39-38 overtime victory in front of a crowd of 22,242.
The Aztecs tied the game at 31 with a 35-yard field goal by Chance Marden as time expired in regulation, and then won the game in the first overtime on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Adam Dingwell to Gavin Escobar and a 2-point conversion pass from Dingwell to Rob Andrews.
"We had our opportunities," Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault said. "It's a tough loss. It finally caught up with us. We had a chance to put them away and we didn't do it."
The Wolf Pack, which saw its five game winning streak come to an end to fall to 6-2 overall and 3-1 in the Mountain West, had the game in control with the ball and a first down at the Aztecs' 44-yard line with 1:56 to go.
The Aztecs, though, forced the Pack to punt with under a minute to play and took over at their own 20-yard line with just 50 seconds to play. Dingwell, the Aztecs' backup quarterback who was pressed into duty because of a first-quarter injury to start Ryan Katz, then completed three passes down to the Pack 19-yard line.
A pass interference penalty on Pack cornerback Charles Garrett gave the Aztecs a first down at the 14, and Marden tied the game a play later on a 35-yard field goal.
The Pack took the lead 38-31 in overtime on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Cody Fajardo to Brandon Wimberly. Allen Hardison kicked the extra point for the seven-point lead.
The Aztecs scored on their second play of the overtime on the Dingwell pass to Escobar.
Ault wasn't surprised the Aztecs went for the two-point conversion and the victory.
"I wasn't," Ault said. "We knew they'd probably go for it. They wanted to win it right now and they did."
Dingwell completed 14 of 23 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns. Fajardo, who had missed the last game and a half with a back injury, was 29-of-40 for 304 yards and three touchdowns.
"I felt we would eventually stop them," Ault said. "And we didn't. Our pass defense was real inconsistent. They just out-executed us."
San Diego State, which has now won its last three games against the Wolf Pack, improved to 5-3, 3-1 with its third consecutive victory.
The Wolf Pack scored the only touchdown of the first half in taking a 10-6 lead at the intermission.
Fajardo connected with wide receiver Aaron Bradley in the left corner of the end zone to cap off a 10-play drive with five seconds to go in the half. The Pack quarterback completed five passes on the drive for 65 yards in the drive that covered 56 yards (the Pack was penalized 10 yards) in just 1:29.
The drive nearly stalled at the San Diego State 40-yard line but Fajardo found Bradley for an 11-yard gain on fourth-and-9 for a first down. He then connected with Bradley for 16 more down to the 13-yard line and running back Stefphon Jefferson for eight yards down to the 5-yard line.
The Pack actually had to score twice on the drive as a 5-yard touchdown pass from Fajardo to tight end Zach Sudfeld was wiped out because Sudfeld was ruled to be an ineligible receiver. The penalty, though, didn't hurt as Fajardo found Bradley for the 10-yard touchdown two plays later for the Pack's halftime lead.
Both teams struggled to put points on the scoreboard in the first half despite entering the game as the top two scoring teams in the Mountain West. The Pack had averaged 41 points a game to lead the conference followed by the Aztecs at 38.1 a game.
The Wolf Pack took a 3-0 lead on a 36-yard field goal by Hardison with just 1:11 to go in the first quarter. The drive covered 70 yards on 15 plays but the Pack had to settle for the field goal when a Fajardo pass sailed over the head of Brandon Wimberly in the end zone on a 4th-and-8 pass from the 19.
The Aztecs, who lost starting quarterback Ryan Katz to an injury on their second drive of the game, took a 6-3 lead on a pair of field goals by Marden from 39 and 46 yards out.
Dingwell, who had attempted just six passes (completing two) all season before Saturday, engineered both field goal drives.
Dingwell ran seven yards for a first down to the Pack 19-yard line on his first drive in relief of Katz. But the Aztecs' drive hit a wall when Wolf Pack cornerback Khalid Wooten blitzed and forced Dingwell to fumble for a 6-yard loss back to the 25-yard line. Marden kicked his first field goal of the game three plays later from 39 yards out to tie the game at 3-3 with 9:15 left in the half.
The Pack then helped the Aztecs take the lead on their next drive.
Pack punter Chase Tenpenny actually punted a ball that rolled dead two yards behind the original line of scrimmage but it wasn't his fault entirely. The snap from Connor Talbot from the Nevada 48-yard line sailed over Tenpenny's head and the Pack punter had to run down the ball at about his own 10-yard line. Tenpenny somehow got off a punt that rolled dead at the Wolf Pack 46-yard line.
The Aztecs took advantage of the fortunate field position but also got some additional help from the Pack. Garrett was called for a 10-yard holding penalty, giving San Diego State a first down at the Wolf Pack 34-yard line. Marden then kicked a 46-yard field goal on fourth down for the 6-3 Aztecs lead.
The Wolf Pack's touchdown at the end of the first half was a sign of things to come as both offenses found their rhythm in the second half.
The Wolf Pack, which broke a two-game losing streak to San Diego State to take a 3-2 edge in the series, earned dome breathing room midway through the third quarter as Fajardo scored on a 5-yard run for a 17-6 lead.
Fajardo rolled to his right on the touchdown run, faked a pitch to running back Nick Hale, freezing Aztec defensive back Marcus Andrews and cruised untouched into the end zone with 8:43 to go in the third quarter.
The Aztecs, though, got right back into the game on their next drive, going 62-yards on 10 plays to cut the Pack lead to just 17-14.
Again, the Aztec drive was helped along by a Pack penalty. A 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Wooten tacked onto an 18-yard scramble by Dingwell gave the Aztecs a first down on the Pack 16-yard line.
Aztec running back Walter Kazee then picked up five yards on a 4th-and-2 run from the Pack 8-yard line and then carried it into the end zone from the 3-yard line on the very next play for the touchdown. Dingwell then tossed a pass to fullback Chad Young for the 2-point conversion to cut the Pack lead to a field goal.
That was as close as the Aztecs would get.
Fajardo led the Pack on a 75-yard scoring drive to up the lead to 24-14 with 1:15 to go in the third quarter. The seven-play drive culminated in a 3-yard touchdown pass from Fajardo to Wimberly in the left corner of the end zone. The touchdown was Wimberly's first since he caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Colin Kaepernick at the end of the Dec. 24, 2009 Hawaii Bowl loss (45-10) to SMU. Wimberly, who missed the entire 2011 season while recovering from a gunshot wound, had played 21 consecutive games without scoring a touchdown.
The Aztecs, though, weren't finished scoring.
Dingwell brought San Diego State right back after Wimberly's touchdown to cut the Pack lead to 24-21. The Aztecs' 6-foot-4 sophomore quarterback, who tossed just one pass in a game as a freshman in 2011 (he ended up red-shirting), found wide receiver Brice Butler for 11 yards for a first down at the Wolf Pack 19-yard line and then connected with Dominique Sandifer on a 19-yard touchdown two plays later with just under 12 minutes to play. The touchdown capped off a 73-yard, nine-play drive.
The Aztecs and Wolf Pack, though, were not finished scoring.
Fajardo and the Wolf Pack went 65 yards on 11 plays to take a 31-21 lead with 7:46 to play. And this time it was a San Diego State penalty that aided the Pack cause.
Aztecs' cornerback King Holder was called for a late hit on a 4-yard run by Fajardo, giving the Pack a first-and-goal at the San Diego State 6-yard line. Jefferson then did the honors from there, gaining five yards on first down and finding the end zone from a yard out.
San Diego State came right back on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Dingwell to tight end Gavin Escobar to cut the Pack's lead back to a field goal at 31-28 with 3:45 to go. Escobar was wide open in the middle of the end zone, capping off the Aztecs' 75-yard, 11-play drive.