It was ugly, but the University of Nevada football team kept its slim bowl hopes alive.
Nevada was unimpressive in a 23-17 win over UTEP on Saturday at Mackay Stadium. Fittingly on actually one of his more unimpressive days, Nate Burleson broke the school record of 18 for most receptions in a game when he caught 19 passes for 180 yards.
Knowing that Burleson had a chance for the record, Nevada coach Chris Tormey had Zack Threadgill throw to Burleson, who made his 19th catch for a 2-yard gain on the last play of the game.
The Wolf Pack (5-5, 4-2 in the Western Athletic Conference) stayed in third place in the WAC by beating the Miners (2-8, 1-5). The WAC has tie-ins to three bowls, but could only receive two bids, particulary if Nevada ends up in third in the WAC.
It figures Nevada would need to beat Fresno State and Boise State in its final two games to finish 7-5 and in third in the WAC to have a chance at a bowl. The best chance for Nevada to play in the postseason also figures to be Boise's Humanatarian Bowl. The WAC would like Boise State to play in a bigger-time bowl to open up a spot in the Humanatarian Bowl for its third place team, which could be Nevada.
Theoretically, the Wolf Pack becomes bowl eligible with one more win, but if it finishes 6-6, chances are they won't be going anywhere.
Tormey was just happy to be 5-5. "I'm happy to be at .500 this late in the season," he said. "But I'm not happy with our performance. I think we can play a lot better.
"If we don't play to the best of our ability every week, we're not going to win."
Nevada had a chance to take a 3-0 lead, but Damon Fine missed the first of two field goal attempts when he was wide left on a 38-yarder. Fine was also wide left on an extra point.
Dominic Cruz took the ball away from Jahmal Fenner when Fenner fumbled away a punt to give the Wolf Pack the ball at the Miner 19-yard line. But this time, Fine was wide right on a 36-yard attempt, apparently overcompensating for the wind.
"Windy days are hard on kickers," Tormey said. "Sometimes they overadjust.
"He's got to kick better than he did and he can kick better. He's just go to hit it right down the middle. If the wind blows it out, it blows it out."
Jahmal Fenner made up for his fumble by intercepting a pass and returning it to the Nevada 36 to set up UTEP's first score, a 26-yard touchdown pass from Omar Duarte to Sherman Austin. Nevada came right back to tie the score 7-7 on a 4-yard scoring pass from Threadgill to Burleson.
UTEP answered on Duarte's 5-yard scoring run to take a 14-7 lead. Nevada responded by driving to UTEP's 20 where Tormey made an interesting decision on fourth and seven.
Tormey opted to go for it, admitting that the wind and Fine's shaky performance were reasons why he made the decision. "It was a little of both," said Tormey about the wind and Fine's struggles affecting his decision.
The Wolf Pack and Tormey were bailed out when pass interference was called on the play. That set up Threadgill's 11-yard scoring strike to Burleson that tied the score 14-14.
Just before the half, Fenner made his second interception at the Miner 41. UTEP was able to drive down to the Nevada 37 in two plays, setting up Keith Robinson's 54-yard field goal to five the Miners a 17-14 lead on the last play of the half.
Threadgill's 4-yards scoring pass to Bill Lynch gave Nevada a 20-17 lead, but Fine missed the extra point wide left.
Nevada could have put the game away, but Burleson dropped a pass in the end zone and the Wolf Pack settled for Fine's 32-yard field goal. The Wolf Pack kep their six-point lead when Corey Jackson, who led the WAC in rebounding last season, was able to block Robinson's 38-yard field goal attempt.
Burleson, who has 117 catches this season, found out he had a chance for the record with two minutes left in the game. But Burleson was more concerned about the drop in the end zone.
"I didn't fell like I had a good game, especially after I dropped that pass in the end zone," he said.
Burleson could return for one more year with Nevada or opt for the NFL draft. He said how high he'll go in the draft will determine if he returns.
Game Notes: Nevada played most of the game without its top offensive lineman, Cody Johnson, who was plagued by a sprained knee.