In a tale of two dramatically different halves, Nevada opened a 20-point lead before surrendering 24 unanswered points in a 31-27 Mountain West Conference football loss to Utah State on Saturday afternoon at Maverik Stadium.
The Wolf Pack (6-5, 4-3) led 21-7 at halftime while limiting the Aggies (6-5, 5-3) to 78 yards of total offense. Running back James Butler tallied a 60-yard touchdown rush to put Nevada in front 27-7 with 14:10 remaining in the third quarter. Utah State then scored 24 unanswered points while outgaining Nevada 235-51 in that stretch to snap the Pack’s three-game win streak.
Butler eclipsed 100-yards rushing for the fourth straight game and became the 18th player in program history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season. Senior running back Don Jackson added 79 rushing yards while junior receiver Jerico Richardson caught five passes for 42 yards. Redshirt freshman DB Asauni Rufus led the defense with a career-high 13 tackles.
Nevada got on the board first with its second defensive touchdown of the season. On third-and-2 at the 22-yard line, efensive end Rykeem Yates tipped Kent Myers’ pass and Jordan Dobrich intercepted it at the 25-yard line and raced untouched into the end zone. Another interception — this time from linebacker Bryan Lane Jr. — led to a Pack score later in the second quarter. Lane returned a pick 13-yards to the 21 yard line before Stewart’s 2-yard TD rush put Nevada in front, 14-0, with 8:22 left in the second.
The Aggies followed with a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from Hunter Sharp. It marked Nevada’s first allowed kick return for a TD since 2010. Nevada then reclaimed momentum and took a 21-7 lead late in the second quarter on a rush on 3rd-and-long. Stewart handed off to Butler, who ran over the left edge before cutting back to the right and diving over the pylon for a 33-yard TD rush on 3rd-and-11.
The Wolf Pack opened the second half with a big spark. In the second play of the half, the Union paved a big hole for Butler, who jaunted 60 yards for a touchdown. The extra point was blocked, marking the Pack’s first missed PAT of the season. Nevada led 27-7, which was its first 20 point lead of the season, with 14:10 remaining in the third quarter.
The Aggies then had scoring drives of 14 plays and 75 yards, and six plays and 68 yards. Both drives were capped by TD runs from Devonte Mays, as the Aggies pulled within 27-20 with 6:25 left in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Nevada was forced to punt on four straight drives.
Later in the fourth quarter, the Pack defense forced a stop on third down in its own territory. Utah State then downed a precision punt at Nevada’s own one-yard line. On first down, Nevada bobbled the snap and the Aggies recovered the fumble in the end zone, taking a 28-27 lead with 6:55 left in the game.
Nevada drove to midfield on its ensuing possession before being stuffed on fourth-and-short. The Aggies then drove 32 yards and seven plays, taking a 31-27 lead on a 42-yard field goal with 32 seconds left to play. Nevada had three incompletions before its final play resulted in a fumble on an attempted lateral as time expired.
Player of the Game: Butler was Nevada’s bright spot on Saturday. The sophomore ran 17 times for 139 yards with touchdown runs from 33 and 60 yards out. He now has 1,133 yards on the season after becoming the 18th player in program history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season. This is Butler’s fourth straight game with over 100 rushing yards.
Nevada’s play of the game was its longest play from scrimmage — a 60-yard touchdown rush from Butler to open the second half. The play game Nevada a 20-point lead. Unfortunately, it was all Utah State from that point on, as Butler’s touchdown rush was Nevada’s final chunk play in the game. The significance of this is the Wolf Pack is now bowl eligible, though, after this week, they’ll have to leave an accomplishment unchecked since the loss eliminated Nevada from contention in the MW West Division, as San Diego State clinched the title.
Nevada closes the regular season at Qualcomm Stadium on the road Saturday against San Diego State. The kickoff between the Wolf Pack and Aztecs is set for 7:45 p.m. PST on ESPN2.