A look back at the Pack: A good team knows how to finish a drive

RENO - The Top 10 drives of the 2010 Nevada Wolf Pack season ...

10. Nick Hale-elujah!

It was the night before Halloween and Nick Hale had obviously come to Mackay Stadium dressed as former Stanford running back Toby Gerhart.

How else can you explain an unknown sophomore backup to the backup to the, one more time, backup running back, who had touched the ball just once over the first seven games of his Pack career, playing a major role in one of the longest touchdown drives of the year?

Hale, a sophomore transfer from the College of the Canyons, on the field only because starter Vai Taua was resting a sore ankle and fellow backups Lampford Mark, Mike Ball and Courtney Randall must have lost their helmets, was the key performer in a 90-yard, six-play drive on Oct. 30 against the Utah State Aggies.

The 5-foot-11, 215-pounder picked up four yards on the ground on the second play of the drive on his first carry in seven games. He then rambled for seven yards (his career high, by the way) on play No. 5, helping the Pack dig out of a hole caused by a false start penalty. Hale capped off his five minutes of sudden fame with a 20-yard touchdown catch of a pass from quarterback Colin Kaepernick for a 49-14 Pack lead with two minutes left in the third quarter.

It was Hale's first and, so far, last touchdown as a Pack player. It was his first and, so far, last catch as a Pack player. And it was the first and, so far, last time Taua had a sore ankle and Mark, Ball and Randall were all missing in action at the same time. Hale's touchdown proved to be the game-winner as Utah State scored 28 points in the final 16 minutes and the Pack had to hold on for a 56-42 victory.

9. Pack fires a couple cannon shots

This is really two separate drives. But they hit the UNLV Rebels like a devastating left jab followed by a crushing right uppercut to the chin for a knockout so we'll count them as one for our purposes.

The Wolf Pack came to Las Vegas' Sam Boyd Stadium bearing gifts, fumbling away a punt and tossing an interception, and found itself in a 14-14 tie. The Pack then went back to basics - the run game - to restore some sanity to this Pack-dominated rivalry.

Starting at its own 46 with just 4:42 to play in the first half, the Wolf Pack kept it on the ground for five straight plays to take a 21-14 lead.

Kaepernick started it with a 16-yard scramble followed by four runs by Taua for the final 38 yards (a 3-yard TD) of Las Vegas real estate.

A forced fumble by linebacker James-Michael Johnson and the return by Thaddeus Brown gave the ball back to the Pack at the Rebel 27-yard line just 19 seconds later. From there, Taua went five yards in two carries to set up a 3rd-and-5 play from the 22. With the half approaching, the Pack finally forgot about the earlier interception and let Kaepernick toss a pass and the senior found Taua on a 22-yard scoring strike. The two pivotal scoring drives just 72 seconds apart combined went for 81 yards on eight efficient plays. The Rebels never recovered and the Pack would never look back in a 44-26 victory.

8. Memo to NFL scouts: Kaepernick can throw

If there was one drive this season that demonstrated just how much Colin Kaepernick had grown as a quarterback, it was Nov. 6 in the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Id., late in the first half. The Wolf Pack, ahead 21-3, found itself at its own 4-yard line with a mere 46 seconds left on the first-half clock. The Pack then ran a 7-on-7 passing drill. Kaepernick hit his first three passes on the drive: to Rishard Matthews for 14 yards, to Brandon Wimberly for 12 and to Matthews again for 11. Timeout Nevada with 27 seconds to go.

Kaepernick then fired another pass that Matthews dropped. The next pass went to Malcolm Shepherd for 12 yards. Timeout Nevada with 13 seconds left.

Kaepernick then found Matthews with a 45-yard strike down to the 2. Timeout. Five seconds to go.

Do you kick a sure field goal and take a comfortable three-touchdown halftime lead. Are you kidding?

Kaepernick was now playing the role of Bishop ("The good Lord would never disrupt the best game of my life!") Pickering in Caddyshack. A driving rainstorm, let alone a mere five seconds left on the clock, wasn't going to stop him now from completing this pass-happy drive. With the first-half clock evaporating, Kaepernick calmly dropped back and found Matthews for a 2-yard touchdown pass and a 28-3 halftime lead. End of half. End of Vandals. The Pack had gone 96 yards (equaling the longest drive of the year) in a mere 46 ticks of the clock. Expect NFL scouts to watch tape of those 46 seconds over and over in the coming weeks.

7. Perfection was oh so close

We bring the following two drives to your attention not to ruin your Wolf Pack party that is now well into its fifth month. We do it only to remind you how close this Pack team came to perfection this season.

How close? Well, the Pack was a fingertip away. No, it was the width of a flower petal on an Hawaiian lei away from a dream 14-0 season. The two drives in question both ended up as Colin Kaepernick turnovers in the second half on the night of Oct. 16 in Honolulu.

Trailing Hawaii 17-0 (a Kaepernick fumble led to the first Hawaii points in the first quarter), the Wolf Pack took its first second half drive down to the Hawaii 10-yard line. Kaepernick then took off around the left side and appeared headed for a sure touchdown.

Hawaii linebacker Corey Paredes, though, slapped the ball away from the Pack quarterback as its was about to break the goal line. The second drive in question ended with 90 seconds left in the game. With the Pack trailing just 27-21 and seemingly on its way to a dramatic 28-27 victory, Kaepernick's high pass from the Hawaii 35-yard line was batted into the air by wide receiver Brandon Wimberly and into the arms of Hawaii's Mana Silva.

If you don't believe the Pack deserved to have Kyle Brotzman's field goal sail wide to the right at the end of regulation on Nov. 26, well, you probably forgot all about what happened in Hawaii in October.

6. Pack sets the tone, then answers Cal Bears

Everything the Wolf Pack accomplished this season, every great moment that took place, had its roots in the night of Sept. 17 at Mackay Stadium.

The Cal Bears of the Pac-10 had finally made the return trip to Reno after the Pack went to Berkeley in 1996. It was important for the Pack to get off to a good start. The Pack got off to a phenomenal start. The Pack entered a jam-packed Mackay Stadium that night with an unbelievable burst of energy and passion, going 80 yards in 12 plays on the game's first drive for a 7-0 lead.

The Pack simply pistol-whipped the Bears as Kaepernick broke free on runs of 17 and 21 yards and found Tray Session on pass plays of 14 and 15 (the touchdown) yards. The drive set the tone for the entire night. But you can't beat a decent Pac-10 team with one emotion-filled drive. So when Cal answered right away with the first of Shane Vereen's three touchdown runs on the night, well, it was important for the Pack to answer right back. Kaepernick and friends did just that, going 85 yards in 12 plays to take a 14-7 lead. Those first two drives gave the Pack unbelievable confidence that ended up carrying them to a landmark 52-31 victory. And the confidence gained that evening carried them through the rest of the season.

5. Pack plays keep-away from Cougars

It was the Wolf Pack's football version of the old four-corner basketball offense.

The Pack, it seemed, was in no hurry to score and perfectly happy to just keep the ball for the rest of the afternoon. Ahead of the BYU Cougars 24-10, the Wolf Pack took over the ball on its own 13-yard line with 5:20 to play in the third quarter on the afternoon of Sept. 25 in Provo, Utah.

Vai Taua went for five yards on a 3rd-and-2 run from the Pack 47 for a first down. Courtney Randall picked up two yards on a crucial 4th-and-1 from the BYU 39. Taua gained two on 3rd-and-2 from the BYU 29. And Kaepernick also got into the act, going for five yards on 3rd-and-4 from the BYU 21.

Darkness, it seemed, was settling in on LaVell Edwards Stadium. Library cards were becoming overdue. Scholarships were running out. The BYU Cougars, sensing that the Wolf Pack was never going to give up the ball, finally called a timeout with 11:27 to play in the game. When it finally came to an end, the Pack kept the ball for a grueling 21 plays (16 runs) and nearly nine (8: 53) minutes. It was the longest drive of the Pack season. Thirteen of the first 14 plays on the drive were runs. The drive covered 75 yards and was capped off by a 29-yard field goal by Anthony Martinez for a 27-10 lead with 11:27 left.

4. Run to win

If you invited the Wolf Pack over to your house to play this season, well, they just might steal your football.

The Pack had the ball for more than 36 minutes at BYU and for 38:42 at Idaho. The most selfish the Pack got this year, though, was at Louisiana Tech on the afternoon of Dec. 4. The Pack held the ball for a season-high 38:46. That's because there was something it wanted in Ruston, La., that important afternoon. And, no, it wasn't the football. It was a share of the WAC championship.

The Wolf Pack, leading just 21-17 with 3:51 left in the third quarter, simply figured that the way to secure a victory and a WAC title was to simply never give up the ball. And it came close to doing just that. The Pack held the football for an astonishing 15:33 of the final 18:51 on its way to a 35-17 victory. Nevada controlled the football for a grueling 29 plays, 228 yards and two touchdowns (a 28-yard Kaepernick run and a Taua 6-yard run) over its final three drives. The Pack, already up 35-17, held the ball for the final 7:58. The Pack simply went back to its Frank Hawkins, Charvez Foger, Chance Kretschmer and Chris Lemon days and ran and ran and, yes, ran some more. The Pack kept the ball on the ground for 26 of those final 29 plays. Louisiana Tech had the football for just nine plays and 3:18 over the final 18:51.

3. Pistol shoots blanks in bowls

The Wolf Pack, for the most part, forgets to load its pistol offense when it goes to a bowl game.

Nevada scored just one offensive touchdown in a 21-20 loss to Miami in the 2006 MPC Computers Bowl, got shut out in the 2007 New Mexico Bowl 23-0 by New Mexico and had one touchdown in a 45-10 loss to SMU in last year's Hawaii Bowl.

And it happened again on Jan. 9 against Boston College in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

The Pack won 20-13 but it also went without a touchdown for the final three quarters. It was the first time the pistol offense failed to score a touchdown for three quarters in a game since, you guessed it, last year's Hawaii Bowl. But the offense did have one memorable drive against Boston College. Kaepernick led his teammates 77 yards in 10 plays for a 27-yard touchdown pass to Matthews and a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter. The scoring drive was extremely important because the Eagles had stolen the momentum away on a 30-yard touchdown run by Andre Williams to tie the game at 7-7 on the first play after a Kaepernick fumble. The scoring drive in the first quarter would turn out to be the final one of Kaepernick's Wolf Pack career and helped him earn his first bowl victory.

2. First comeback

The Wolf Pack had never been behind in the fourth quarter all season. But there it was, trailing the Fresno State Bulldogs 34-28 on Nov. 13 with 7:54 to play with a chance at a WAC title hanging in the balance. The season-saving 54-yard, seven-play drive began innocently enough with a 3-yard run by Taua and an incomplete pass by Kaepernick. Kaepernick and Matthews would then hook up for the first of their many season-saving plays on a 16-yard pass completion and a first down at the Fresno 35-yard line. Two plays later Kaepernick connected with Malcolm Shepherd on a 4-yard pass on 3rd-and-3. The offensive line then blew a huge hole in the Fresno defense and Vai Taua exploded through it for a 24-yard touchdown and a 35-34 lead with 4:51 left. The Pack would hang on for the victory, its first fourth-quarter comeback since it beat Utah State in 2009 on the road. Learning how to come back late in a game would prove useful two weeks later.

1. Martinez, Matthews and mayhem

The Wolf Pack trailed the Boise State Broncos 24-21 on the night of Nov. 26 with 11:21 to play. The Pack had just scored two touchdowns in a span of just 3:22 so the three-point deficit with almost a dozen minutes to play didn't seem so daunting.

The Pack played with confidence, purpose and patience and methodically marched down the field to tie the game at 24-24 on a 23-yard field goal by Anthony Martinez. The 15-play, 87-yard drive was a thing of beauty in its simplicity and efficiency. The Pack ran it a dozen times, passed it just twice, picked up 86 of the 87 yards on the ground and booted a chip-shot field goal.

The drive also featured the most overlooked, gigantic, crucial play in school history when Zach Sudfeld recovered a Courtney Randall fumble at the Boise 36.

The second comeback a few minutes later was much more difficult and stressful. Boise went back ahead 31-24 after Martinez's field goal on a 79-yard screen pass from Kellen Moore to Doug Martin, leaving the Pack just 4:47 to travel 79 yards to tie the game.

And this time they needed a touchdown.

Kaepernick found tight end Virgil Green on a 14-yard pass on 3rd-and-7 from the 24. Taua chewed up two yards on 3rd-and-1 from the 49. Mike Ball hauled in a 22-yard Kaepernick pass for a first down at the Boise 29. Matthews grabbed a 9-yard pass on 2nd-and-8 from the 27. And Randall, getting another chance after his fumble almost killed the season earlier, went six yards on the ground for a first down at the Boise 7 with 21 seconds to go.

An incomplete pass left just 17 seconds left. Kaepernick then went to Matthews in the left corner for the game-tying score with 13 seconds to play. Martinez would win it in overtime with another field goal and the Pack would have the greatest victory in its history.

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