RENO - The Top 10 running plays of the 2010 Nevada Wolf Pack football season . . .
10. Magleby offers hope for future
Yes, it was a meaningless run at a meaningless moment in a blowout victory. But backup to the backup quarterback, Mason Magleby, gave everyone reason to believe on Nov. 6 that Life After Colin Kaepernick might not be so bad after all. No, the Pack didn't need Magleby's 31-yard run late in a 63-17 victory at Idaho's Kibbie Dome.
The Pack ran for 421 other more meaningful yards that afternoon without him. But Magleby's only run of the season had to make you smile if you are a Wolf Pack fan. It was a reassuring moment that, hey, this Pistol offense doesn't need the most amazing athlete in school history to make it work. If a guy like Magleby, a red-shirt freshman, can just come off the bench cold and pick up 31 yards on the ground, well, 2011 and beyond might be a lot of fun after all. It was the longest run by a Wolf Pack quarterback not named Kaepernick since Nick Graziano scampered 31 yards in 2006 against New Mexico State. We might see more of the same in 2011.
9. Taua goes on
73-yard dash against San Jose State
Vai Taua exploding through the line, finding himself all alone and running free and easy down the middle of the field on his way to the end zone was a staple of the Pack offense the last three years. The last time Pack fans had the pleasure of seeing Taua streak more than halfway across the field for a TD took place on the night of Oct. 9 at Mackay Stadium. The Pack found itself ahead of San Jose State just 21-13 in the third quarter. The offense was out of sync. San Jose was looking to make its entire season by upsetting the Pack on the road at Reno, something that not even their Bay area neighbor Cal could do a month earlier. The Pack needed a big play on offense. Enter Taua. On 2nd-and-10 from his own 27-yard line with just over nine minutes to play in the third quarter, Taua took a handoff from quarterback Colin Kaepernick, hit the hole as quick as any Pack back in history and streaked down the middle of the field 73 yards to the end zone. It was classic Taua just when the Pack needed it most. The touchdown broke the game open, took the life out of the Spartans and led to a 35-13 victory.
8. Taua gives salute to cannon
The UNLV Rebels hadn't really seen vintage Taua. Not really. Oh, he had over 100 yards against them in 2008. But his only touchdown that night was from only four yards out. Taua had yet to leave a signature touchdown on this rivalry.
It was 2010, his senior year, and it was Taua's time to leave his stamp on this rivalry. The Rebels had just kicked a field goal to cut the Pack lead to 31-17 with 31 seconds to go in the third quarter on Oct. 2 at Las Vegas' Sam Boyd Stadium. A comfortable lead but there still was plenty of time for the Rebels to continue to dream about painting the cannon red after the game.
The Pack took over the ball at its own 28 yard line with 26 seconds to go. It was Taua Time. The Pack offensive line parted the Rebels like the red sea and Taua burst free down the middle for 72 yards and a game-securing touchdown and a 38-17 Pack lead (Nevada would win 44-26). It took Taua, who had 188 yards and four touchdowns (one receiving) in the game, just 11 seconds to go the 72 yards. And, more importantly, it gave the Rebels something to finally remember him by.
7. The stand-in steps up
This one might have been the funniest and most eye-opening running touchdown of the whole Wolf Pack season. First of all, backup quarterback Tyler Lantrip was in the game, in the first quarter with the Pack only leading 7-0. That was eye-opening enough as Kaepernick was on the sideline being taught a lesson by head coach Chris Ault.
It was the first time Lantrip had stepped on the field in the first half of a game, let alone when the Pack was leading by fewer than 23 points. But there he was on the night of Oct. 30 at Mackay Stadium, leading the offense against Utah State.
On his second play, Lantrip took the snap, turned to his left and saw only green FieldTurf. Running back Mike Ball either didn't hear Lantrip's audible, didn't think the backup quarterback had the stomach to call an audible or simply wanted to do his own thing.
Whatever the reason, Ball was now running behind Lantrip's backside to the right. The junior quarterback then let his instincts take over. He tucked the ball away, fought through a stumble or two (or three) and 13 yards later found himself in the end zone for a 14-0 Pack lead. If there was a single moment that assured you that everything was going to go right for this team this year, that was it. The Pack would go on to win that night 56-42.
6. Taua out-shines Shane
Cal's Shane Vereen was shredding the Wolf Pack defense on the night of Sept. 17. The Bears' running back already had three touchdowns of 59, 50 and 1-yard. He was doing what Vai Taua normally did on the plastic grass of Mackay Stadium. The Pack still led the Bears 38-24 in the fourth quarter but there was plenty of time for Vereen to do his magic. The Pack needed an exclamation point to wrap up this dramatic victory. Taua, like he did so often in his Pack career, provided the perfect punctuation. And, like most of his Pack touchdowns, he was in the open planning his touchdown dance before you or the defense even knew he had the ball. Taua sliced through the Bears for 54 yards on the pivotal 3rd-and-1 run to put this all- important 52-31 victory away for the Pack with 7:43 to go. Taua's touchdown didn't leave Cal enough time to hand off to Vereen (198 yards on just 19 carries) the rest of the game.
5. Ault opens up the playbook just in time
It was, technically, two separate rushing plays. But we're going to count them as one because the second one was really an extension of the first. The Wolf Pack was struggling to move the ball on the ground against the Boston College Eagles on Jan. 9 in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. No shame in that. The Eagles, after all, had the No. 1 defense against the run in the nation this year. The Pack, ahead just 17-10 late in the third quarter, needed a spark on the ground, something to loosen up the Eagles' sturdy run defense. Pack head coach Chris Ault then went to his bag of tricks. On first down from the Pack 44, Ault sent wide receiver Malcolm Shepherd around end for eight yards. That worked so well the Pack went right back to it on the very next play, sending wide receiver Brandon Wimberly on an end around for 11 yards. The Pack suddenly had a first down at the Boston College 37-yard line. Seven plays later they booted a 27-yard field goal for a 20-10 lead with 1:17 to go in the third quarter. The Pack, which ran 27 wide receiver end arounds in 2010, 10 by Shepherd and almost all of them on first or second down, would hang on for a 20-13 win.
4. "Kapping" off a WAC championship
As soon as it was over - when he landed in the end zone - you thought, how-did-he-do-that? It was an improbable journey through 10 teammates and 11 defenders, you immediately thought to yourself, "I'm definitely going to miss seeing that." Colin Kaepernick rolled to his right looking to pass from the Louisiana Tech 28-yard line on the afternoon of Dec. 4. The Pack was leading just 21-17 early in the fourth quarter, desperately needing a victory to grab a share of the Western Athletic Conference title. It was 4th-and-9. Most teams, leading by just four in the fourth quarter on the road, would have attempted a 45-yard field goal and been happy walking away with a 7-point lead. Most teams, though, don't have a quarterback like Kaepernick. But, still, after Kaepernick rolled to his right, and found nobody open, a field goal was looking pretty good. Most quarterbacks would have taken a sack or simply thrown the ball to Mississippi hoping merely to live to fight another play. Kaepernick, though, rolled back to his left. He weaved his way through the Louisiana Tech defense. And, suddenly, he was flying down the left sideline with the end zone in sight. At the last moment he flew over the goal line near the sideline for a touchdown and a 28-17 lead with 13:53 to play. It would be his final rushing touchdown as a Wolf Pack player. And, fittingly, it won a WAC title.
3. Kaepernick puts pressure on Boise State
Time was running out on the Wolf Pack's dream season. The Pack trailed Boise State 24-7 on Nov. 26 at Mackay Stadium with under two minutes to play in the third quarter. Even this latest drive, which began at the 42-yard line, wasn't really much of a drive at all. It needed a fortunate pass interference penalty on a desperation 4th-and-2 pass to keep it alive. And now the last two plays had netted a mere three yards, setting up a 3rd-and-7 from the Boise 18. The Pack needed a touchdown. And it needed it now, or else the dream was going to die. Kaepernick then put the season and his legacy as a Pack quarterback squarely on his own back. The senior took off on a season-saving, acrobatic 18-yard touchdown run, cutting Boise's once insurmountable lead to just 24-14 with 1:23 to go in the third quarter. Dropping back to pass, Kaepernick first had to avoid a Boise blitz. He then had to slip another Bronco defender at the 8-yard line near the sideline. He then capped it off by literally flying into the end zone the final three yards, hitting the orange pile-on with the football. It was a remarkable play. The play didn't beat Boise but it showed the Pack for the first time that night that it was possible. It gave an entire community reason to believe that it could happen. And it did.
2. Taua buries Bulldogs
Fresno State was the last place the Wolf Pack wanted to leave its WAC title. But with more than four minutes to play on Nov. 13, that was about to happen. The Pack was trailing the Bulldogs 34-28. The game in two weeks against Boise State was beginning to look like it would lose its meaning. The Pack was moving the ball and now stood just 24 yards from the end zone. But how would it get there? Fresno, after all, had just stopped the Pack and Vai Taua on a crucial 4th-and-1 run from the 8-yard line a few minutes earlier. The Bulldogs seemed determined not to let Taua beat them on this night, holding him to just 65 yards on his previous 20 carries. Taua then took off on one of the most important runs in Wolf Pack history. The offensive line simply blew the Bulldogs to neighboring Turlock and Taua ripped through everyone up the middle for a 24-yard touchdown, giving the Pack a 35-34 lead with 51 to play. That would be the final score and the hopes of a WAC title still were alive.
1. Matthews leaves everyone breathless
The 2nd-and-2 play from the Boise 44-yard line looked doomed almost from the start. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, his team trailing Boise State 24-14 early in the fourth quarter the day after Thanksgiving, took the snap and started to roll slowly to his left. Running back Mike Ball, about 10 yards behind Kaepernick, did the same. It was all happening too slowly. The Boise State defense seemed to smell blood in the water. Pack wide receiver Rishard Matthews, who lined up about 8 yards out wide to the left, then suddenly appeared behind Kaepernick at the Nevada 45-yard line, heading back to the right. Matthews, though, appeared to be too deep, still about 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Kaepernick, though, then calmly flipped Matthews the ball, like he was brushing a fly off his jersey on a hot summer day. Matthews then looked up and saw three Boise defenders licking their lips. The 6-foot-2 junior split those three Boise players, then did the same to two more and incredibly now headed up the right sideline, passing three or four more Broncos. He picked up a block by tight end Virgil Green along the way and the next thing he knew he was celebrating in the end zone on an incredible 44-yard end around touchdown run. The Pack was somehow now trailing Boise just 24-21 with a full 13 minutes to play. Boise never recovered. And the Pack never came down from the lift that Matthews' play gave them to win in overtime, 34-31. They still haven't come down to this day.