RENO — Ty Gangi now has his first Mackay Miracle.
The sophomore quarterback scored on a six-yard run with five seconds to play Saturday afternoon as the Nevada Wolf Pack overcame a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to stun the Utah State Aggies, 38-37, at Mackay Stadium.
“That’s an example of what we’ve always felt about Ty,” Wolf Pack coach Brian Polian said. “When the lights are bright he makes plays.”
A slim Senior Day crowd of 13,390 on a windy, cold and gray afternoon saw the Wolf Pack end a four-game losing streak to improve to 4-7 overall and 2-5 in the Mountain West with one game remaining in the season next Saturday at UNLV. Utah State fell to 3-8 overall and completed its conference season at 1-7.
“That’s the biggest team win I’ve ever been a part of,” Gangi said. “I know it’s a cliché to say it’s a team win but it really was. We all made plays when it mattered.”
The Wolf Pack won the game on special teams as Elijah Mitchell recovered a loose ball in the end zone for a touchdown after Utah State’s Andrew Rodriguez muffed a Wolf Pack punt with just over seven minutes to play. The Pack defense helped win the game by forcing two Utah State punts in the final six minutes to even make the comeback possible.
And the Pack offense did the rest.
“There were six different times where it felt like we weren’t going to win,” Polian said. “People were heading to the turnstiles. But our kids kept fighting and battling and won the game and that’s all that matters.”
The Wolf Pack trailed 37-31 when Gangi and the offense took over the ball at their own 49-yard line with just 97 seconds left to play. The Pack defense set up the favorable field position by forcing Utah State to punt from its own nine-yard line.
Pack running back James Butler picked up 16 yards on the ground down to the Utah State 35-yard line on the second play of the game-winning drive. Two plays later Gangi then connected with Butler for 10 yards down to the Aggies’ 26-yard line, setting up a crucial 4th-and-1 play. Butler, who had 61 of his 119 yards in the fourth quarter, then picked up two yards for the first down at the 24-yard line.
The Aggies then contributed to their own downfall with a pair of costly mistakes. Utah State was flagged for 12 men on the field, giving the Pack offense a first-and-five at the 19-yard line. A pass interference penalty on the Aggies then gave the Pack a first-and-goal from the 8-yard line. Three plays later, though, the Pack still found itself facing a fourth-and-goal from the 6-yard line.
“I just saw Gangi take off running,” Butler said. “It was crazy.”
Gangi, who completed just 13-of-26 passes for 127 yards on the day, took the snap on the do-or-die play and immediately rolled to his right.
“I couldn’t watch,” smiled Mitchell.
“We ran that play a couple series before and they covered it pretty well,” Gangi said. “My mindset on that play was to quickly go through my reads and if it’s not there, just take off.”
Gangi took off down the middle for the end zone.
“I saw a crease and after that it was just a race to the finish line,” Gangi said.
“We called a roll out,” Polian said. “He rolled to his right, the (pass) play wasn’t there and he just went out and made a play. You know, he’s got a magnetic personality. The guys like him. They like playing for him. They feel like they are never out of it (when Gangi is on the field).”
The touchdown was Gangi’s second of the season and capped a wild and improbable Pack comeback. Utah State led by as much as 14 (24-10 in the third quarter) and by 13 (37-24) until Mitchell’s play in the end zone with 7:19 to play.
“That was the swing play of the game for sure,” Polian said. “It’s a lucky play, right? The guy (Rodriguez) muffed a punt. But (Pack punter) Alex Boy is the unsung hero of the game. He made a great punt (51 yards to the Utah State 16) and Elijah Mitchell, instead of just assuming a fair catch, keeps running hard. But we deserve one like that after all we’ve been through this year.”
“I just ran down and he dropped it,” Mitchell said matter-of-factly. “I think we got the momentum after that.”
Utah State, which was forced to punt just once all afternoon until the fourth quarter, then punted on its next two possessions to give the Pack comeback some life. The comeback, though, seemed to lose momentum when Utah State’s Marquan Ellison stopped Butler after a 2-yard gain to the Aggies 3-yard line on a 4th-and-4 pass from Gangi with just 1:57 to go.
The Pack defense, though, then allowed the Aggies to wipe away just 20 seconds off the clock on their next drive on three running plays, setting up the Pack’s game-winning drive.
“Nobody panicked,” Wolf Pack linebacker Alex Bertrando said. “We never got down. This is a pretty special way to play your last game at Mackay.”
Utah State, which hasn’t beaten the Wolf Pack at Mackay Stadium since 1999, dominated the game until the final seven minutes. The Aggies outgained the Wolf Pack 523-341, running for 396 yards and four touchdowns. Utah State took its first lead at 7-3 with a minute to play in the first quarter on 37-yard scoring run by quarterback Kent Myers and held the lead until Gangi’s touchdown run with six seconds left.
“Sometimes it’s ugly,” Polian said. “I know some of the statistics are horrible. But we found a way to win. The guys just kept competing.”
The Wolf Pack pulled to within 27-24 on a 15-yard touchdown run by Butler just three minutes into the fourth quarter. But Utah State countered with a 68-yard scoring run by Tonny Lindsey just 50 seconds later for a 34-24 lead.
The Aggies then had a chance to all but put the game away on the Wolf Pack’s next drive. Utah State’s Ricky Ali’ifua hit Gangi’s hand as the Pack quarterback was about to throw a pass. The Aggies’ Mohelika Uasike picked the ball out of the air and returned it down to the Wolf Pack 13-yard line. The Wolf Pack defense, though, forced the Aggies to settle for a 22-yard field goal and a 37-24 lead with 7:50 to play. The Aggies elected to kick the field goal instead of going for a first down and possible touchdown on a 4th-and-1 play from the Pack 4-yard line.
“Holding them to a field goal was a huge stop,” Polian said. “They score a touchdown there and the game’s over.”
The Wolf Pack now has a chance to end this disappointing season on a high note, beating Utah State at home on Senior Day and then bringing the Fremont Cannon back to northern Nevada next Saturday by beating UNLV in Las Vegas.
“This is special for our seniors to go out of Mackay on top,” Butler said. “We needed this. We needed to end Mackay with a good taste.”
“We’ve been through some tough times this year,” Bertrando said. “People are just fed up with it. Nobody wants to do badly. This is awesome.”