The Nevada Wolf Pack football team turned back their clocks to 2010 on Saturday night.
The Wolf Pack beat the San Diego State Aztecs 30-14 at Mackay Stadium, taking a huge step toward its first conference championship since winning the Western Athletic Conference four years ago. The victory lifted the Wolf Pack into a first-place tie with the Aztecs in the West Division of the Mountain West at 3-2 in league play. The Pack has now won three games in a row for the first time since 2012 to improve to 6-3 overall while San Diego State fell to 4-4.
The victory was the Wolf Pack’s first over San Diego State since 1946. The Aztecs, which had won four games in a row over the Wolf Pack, beat the Pack in overtime in each of the last two years (51-44 last year and 39-38 in 2012).
The Wolf Pack put the game away with two almost identical, explosive runs through the middle of the Aztecs’ defense by running backs James Butler and Don Jackson.
Butler broke free for a 43-yard touchdown run up the middle with 7:06 to play, giving the Pack a 23-14 lead. The 43-yard run was Butler’s fifth touchdown of the year and gave the freshman his first 100-yard rushing game in a Wolf Pack uniform.
Jackson sliced through the Aztecs for a 47-yard gain down to the Aztecs’ 2-yard line on the Pack’s next drive. The junior eventually scored the 2-yard touchdown on fourth down, giving the Pack a 30-14 lead with 1:40 to go.
The two running backs each went over 100 yards in the game. Jackson finished with 124 yards on 20 carries while Butler ended up with 103 on 15. It’s the first time two Wolf Pack players rushed for 100 or more yards in the same game since Stefphon Jefferson (180 yards) and Cody Fajardo (140) did it in the 2012 New Mexico Bowl against Arizona.
The Wolf Pack outscored San Diego State 17-0 in the fourth quarter and has now outscored opponents 118-45 in the final quarter this year.
The first three points of the fourth quarter came on Brent Zuzo’s third field goal of the game, a 24-yarder with 11:42 to go in the fourth quarter that gave the Pack a 16-14 lead. The 45-yard drive was kept alive by a pass interference penalty on San Diego State cornerback J.J. Whittaker on the second play of the drive. Whittaker actually intercepted quarterback Cody Fajardo’s pass at the San Diego State 32-yard line on the play but was whistled for the penalty after pushing Pack wide receiver Hasaan Henderson out of bounds.
The Wolf Pack had to settle for Zuzo’s field goal after getting a first-and-goal at the Aztecs’ 9-yard line. Jackson had a 20-yard gain down to the 20-yard line and Fajardo found tight end Jarred Gipson for 11 yards to the 9-yard line before the drive bogged down.
The Wolf Pack found itself trailing at halftime for the fifth consecutive game.
The Aztecs led 14-10 at the intermission thanks to an acrobatic catch in the end zone just 1:15 before halftime by junior wide receiver Jemond Hazely on a 21-yard pass from quarterback Quinn Kaehler down the middle.
The 6-foot-1 Hazely outfought Wolf Pack cornerback Charles Garrett, tipping the ball in the air and securing it before it hit the ground for the go-ahead touchdown. Hazely’s first career touchdown capped a 77-yard, seven-play drive that saw Kaehler connect on four key completions, nine yards to fullback Adam Roberts, 18 yards to wide receiver Lloyd Mills, 19 yards to Roberts down the middle to the Wolf Pack 21-yard line and the touchdown to Hazely.
Kaehler completed 12-of-22 passes in the first half for 143 yards.
Fajardo’s lone touchdown pass of the half had given the Wolf Pack a 10-7 lead early in the second half. The Pack quarterback found wide receiver Richy Turner on the right side at about the 15-yard line. Turner broke a tackle and found the end zone.
for the 20-yard touchdown with 14:06 to go in the second quarter.
The short (two plays, 20 yards) drive was set up by an interception by Wolf Pack linebacker Jonathan McNeal. McNeal, who picked off a Kaehler pass deep down the middle, returned the ball 20 yards to the Aztecs’ 20-yard line.
San Diego State opened the scoring on a 1-yard touchdown dive by Chase Price with 2:39 to go in the first quarter. The seven-play, 55-yard touchdown drive also featured a 23-yard pass from Kaehler to Mills down to the Wolf Pack 8-yard line. Rashaad Penny also went 21 yards with a reverse to open the drive, giving the Aztecs a first down at the Pack 34-yard line.
Fajardo and the Pack, though, answered quickly, cutting the Aztecs’ lead to 7-3 on a 37-yard field goal by Zuzo with 22 seconds left in the first quarter. The drive was set up by a 55-yard kickoff return by Elijah Mitchell. Fajardo found Turner on the drive for a 25-yard completion but two drops, by Turner and wide receiver Jerico Richardson, forced the Wolf Pack to settle for Zuzo’s field goal.
San Diego State failed to capitalize on its big special teams play of the first half. Mills returned a Pack punt 53 yards to the Wolf Pack 34-yard line with 9:26 to go in the first quarter. San Diego state running back Donnel Pumphrey, though, fumbled the ball away three plays later.
Pumphrey, who came into the game with 989 yards rushing this season, had 50 yards on 10 first-half carries.
Fajardo was 8-of-17 through the air in the first half for 85 yards. The senior also had minus-two yards rushing on just three first-half carries.
The Wolf Pack sliced the Aztecs’ lead to 14-13 on their first drive on the third quarter. Fajardo drove the Pack 58 yards on 13 plays, setting up a 25-yard field goal by Zuzo with 9:32 to go in the third quarter.
The Wolf Pack converted a dangerous 4th-and-1 play (running back James Butler gained six yards) from their own 44-yard line to keep the drive going. The Pack also found itself with a first down at the Aztecs’ 7-yard line but had to settle for the Zuzo’s field goal after Richardson dropped a pass on second down and Fajardo was stopped for no gain on a third-down run.
The Pack also wasted two possible scoring opportunities later in the third quarter.
McNeal came up with his second huge defensive play, stripping the ball away from Pumphrey at the Wolf Pack 44-yard line after the Aztecs’ running back had broken free for a 10-yard gain. The Pack offense, though, couldn’t take advantage of the change in momentum as a holding penalty and a sack of Fajardo forced the Pack to punt.
A 13-yard San Diego State punt gave the Pack the ball at the Aztecs’ 45-yard line with 7:08 to play in the third quarter. Fajardo, though, threw a pass down the middle slightly behind Turner that was batted into the air by cornerback Malik Smith and intercepted by defensive lineman Dontrell Onuoha at the Aztecs’ 37-yard line.
The Wolf Pack has just three regular season games remaining. After a bye week this week, the Pack will play at Air Force on Nov. 15, host Fresno State at Mackay Stadium on Nov. 22 and travel to Las Vegas on Nov. 29 to take on UNLV in the Battle for the Fremont Cannon.