RENO -- This time the Nevada Wolf Pack fell short in their upset bid. Instead, quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt ran for one touchdown and threw for another in the fourth quarter as No. 25 Colorado State came from behind to defeat Nevada on Saturday afternoon.
Tight end Joel Dreesen caught a 34-yard touchdown pass from Van Pelt with 3:33 remaining to cap a comeback in which Colorado State (4-1) fought from a 21-7 third-quarter deficit to win before a crowd of 19,292 at Mackay Stadium.
Nevada (2-2) was trying to win its third straight game at home and to knock off a ranked opponent for the second time in three weeks. Unlike their 31-28 win over Brigham Young on Sept. 14 and even their 31-21 win over Rice one week before, the Wolf Pack couldn't hold on.
"We had a chance to win it in the middle of the fourth quarter, but they out-executed us in their last two drives," Nevada coach Chris Tormey said. "That's why they're champions. They battled back and they deserve all the credit."
Colorado State has won or shared five conference championships and appeared in six bowl games since Sonny Lubick became head coach in 1993. The Rams have also come from behind to win in the fourth quarter eight times under Lubick.
Colorado State has won four games this season by a combined total of 18 points and the lone loss came by a 30-19 score against UCLA on Sept. 7.
"They're wins and wins are hard to come by these days," said Van Pelt, who rushed for 128 yards and passed for another 163. "There's a lot of great football teams and I think that Nevada showed they're a great football team. They're a program that people ruled out, but my hat's off to them because they really pushed us today."
Quarterback Zack Threadgill completed 26 of 43 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns to ignite the Wolf Pack, although he was intercepted twice in the second half. Threadgill did complete a string of 11 straight passes in the first half and was 4-for-4 on back-to-back scoring drives that gave the Wolf Pack a 14-0 lead.
Nate Burleson, who caught 12 balls for 173 yards on the day, had a 33-yard reception to start Nevada's six-play, 92-yard march late in the first quarter. Tim Fleming made a diving catch for 18 yards and then Fleming beat double coverage in the corner for a 23-yard touchdown that gave the Wolf Pack a 7-0 lead. Then Burleson's 21-yard touchdown reception over the middle made it 14-0 with 10:55 left in the second period.
The Wolf Pack extended their lead to 21-7 early in the third period with some help from the defense. The Rams an on fourth-and-1 from the Nevada 42, but defensive tackle Derek Kennard Jr. and end Keenan Curtis led a charge that stopped freshman backup quarterback Justin Holland short of the yard marker. Nevada scored four plays later on tight end Erick Streelman's 9-yard touchdown catch from Threadgill with 12:43 left in the third period.
Colorado State came back to score on each of its next three possessions. The Rams had first-and-goal from the 1, but lost 10 yards on linebacker Logan Carter's sack of Holland and then settled for Jeff Babcock's 29-yard field goal.
Cecil Sapp, who set a Liberty Bowl rushing record with 161 yards against Louisville in 2000, busted a 32-yard run to the 4 and then scored on a 2-yard run. Van Pelt's pass to Joey Cuppari for the 2-point conversion cut Nevada's lead to 21-18.
And when Van Pelt ran 11 yards up the middle for a touchdown on third-and-8, the Rams had their first lead of the game, 25-21 with 14:12 left.
Colorado State went three-and-out on its next two possessions, giving Nevada another crack at the lead midway through the fourth period. The Wolf Pack took over near midfield after a 32-yard punt and Threadgill immediately completed passes of 11 and 18 yards to Burleson. After an incomplete pass, Matt Milton ran 20 yards for a touchdown to cap the four-play drive as the Wolf Pack regained the lead, 28-25 with 6:26 left.
Colorado State had too much time, as it turned out. Van Pelt ran the option for gains of 13, 3 and 7 yards. Sapp went inside for 10 more yards and Van Pelt added 10 more yards on a keeper to the Nevada 34. Next, Van Pelt faked the option and threw to Dreesen, who beat a defender in the end zone for the touchdown reception.
"It was an option play action play and it was designed to go to our tight end," Van Pelt said. "I almost got sacked, I avoided the sack and threw it up to Dreesen. I tried to give him enough room to run under the ball and he made a great play."
Nevada's last hope ended when defensive end Peter Hogan picked off Threadgill's fourth-and-10 pass.
Sapp, who has scored a touchdown in nine straight games dating back to last season, rushed for 127 yards on 26 carries. Colorado State rushed for 260 yards as a team.
Van Pelt was 9-for-17 passing for 163 yards and Holland was 7-for-12 for 108 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown pass to Chris Pittman in the second quarter. Pittman caught 10 passes for 151 yards on the day.
Nevada had 111 yards rushing, led by Milton's 71 yards on 17 carries.