The time has come for all Nevada Wolf Pack football fans to get giddy over Gang Gangi.
Ty Gangi took over at quarterback in the second quarter of a 42-34 loss to the Wyoming Cowboys and almost immediately mirth and merriment returned to Mackay Stadium. There was joy and jocularity in the stands. The Fremont Cannon almost had a premature explosion. The Wolf Pack ended up losing the game but for the first time in a very long while it was as if it didn’t matter.
There was joy in Packville once again.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” Wolf Pack head coach Brian Polian said after the game as the clock approached midnight on Saturday.
Gang Gangi just might save his job.
“If Ty Gangi is our guy moving forward, we have all the confidence in the world,” Polian said last Saturday. “He will get the keys to the car and off we’ll go.”
With Gangi, the Wolf Pack can finally head into the fast lane. Think of the Pack now as a sleek Italian sports car - the Lamborgangi, if you will - able to go from zero to 60 yards in three seconds. With Tyler Stewart at quarterback the last year and a half, the Pack was stuck riding in an electric car running out of juice, getting passed by school busses and minivans.
Stewart was safe, steady and stable. He gets you a 7-6 record and a meaningless bowl game if thing go right. When things go wrong, like this year, he gets you a 3-5 record and an overwhelmed coach struggling to find answers.
Well, the football Gods, who have used the Polian era as sort of their own little private joke, finally gave the Pack coach an answer on Saturday night. Of course, the cruel Gods did it in a savage way as Stewart suffered a season-ending shoulder injury on a tackle by Wyoming defensive end Kevin Prosser. The senior laid on his side on the field after the hit, one leg twitching and his right arm limp at his side.
The young man deserved a kinder, gentler end to his Pack career. He worked hard, said all the right things, did what he was told and always tried his best. But the football Gods are never kind. Sometimes, though, you need to sacrifice someone in order to appease the angry Gods. Stewart just might be that someone.
The days of Safe and Steady Stewie are over. This is now Gang Gangi’s time.
“Having Gangi in there, I don’t think anybody is worried,” said Pack tight end Jarred Gipson, who caught his first touchdown pass of the season from Gangi late in the third quarter against Wyoming. “If we have Gangi in there, we’re going to roll with Gangi and Gangi is going to lead us like he did (Saturday).”
Gangi breathed life back into the Pack offense and the entire program on Saturday night. The atmosphere before the game was, well, non-existent. It was supposed to be Homecoming. It felt more like a wake, with the few visitors showing up only out of respect.
Gangi, though, turned Mackay back into the maker of miracles it once was famous for. The sophomore completed 27-of-43 passes for 300 yards and a touchdown in just three quarters. Stewart, who made 22 starts, never passed for 300 yards in a game. Gangi has already done it and he won’t make his first start until the Pack’s next game on Nov. 5 at new Mexico.
“The play of Gangi was impressive,” Polian said. “He kept his poise very well. For a guy who doesn’t get a lot of reps (in practice), we didn’t have to pare down the offense as well.”
“We put up 34 points after 10 last week,” said Gipson, referring to a demoralizing 14-10 loss at San Jose State. “That is a major step for us. He (Gangi) did great. We didn’t miss a beat.”
Miss a beat? The Pack offense with Gangi added about a dozen new steps to its dance routine. They went from plodding through a slow, methodical waltz under Stewart merely hoping not to step on each other’s toes to spinning on their necks and shoulders and jumping six feet in the air with Gangi.
The Pack offense went from safe, steady and stable to sensational right before our eyes. Gangi, at one point, led the Wolf Pack to points on six (four touchdowns, two field goals) of seven drives. It would have been 7-of-7 if not for a missed 37-yard field goal by Spencer Pettit.
“I did well but it wasn’t enough,” Gangi said. “I hate to lose.”
Oh, it was good enough.
Gangi completed passes of 10 yards or more to seven different receivers. He threw to running backs (James Butler, Jaxson Kincaide), wide receivers (Hasaan Henderson, Wyatt Demps, Jerico Richardson. Ahki Muhammad) and tight ends (Gipson, Brandon Scott). He also ran the ball 10 times himself for 35 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown run.
“It was fun to get out there and get in a rhythm,” said Gangi, who was in the middle of a 2,288-yard, 21-touchdown season at Ventura College a year ago at this time. “It gives me confidence, knowing I can play at this level.”
Gangi gave everyone - coaches, players, fans - present at Mackay Stadium confidence last Saturday. He was - dare we say it? - very Kaepernickian.
The last time a seldom-used backup quarterback strolled onto the field because of an injury to the starter and excited Wolf Pack nation was Colin Kaepernick in 2007. Nick Graziano broke his foot on Oct. 6, 2007 against Fresno State after getting sacked and in walked a gangly red-shirt freshman with skinny legs, long arms and a funny last name and he proceeded to make Wolf Pack history.
The comparisons between last Saturday night and Oct. 6, 2007 should make all Pack fans excited. Kaepernick was 23-of-36 for 384 yards and four touchdowns against Fresno State and also ran the ball 12 times for 60 yards and another score in a 49-41 loss.
A legend was born that afternoon in 2007. Nobody is expecting the current kid with the funny last name to turn into a Pack legend. But it is going to be fun to find out. And when was the last time the word fun was used in a sentence about Wolf Pack football?
It’s OK to smile again, Pack fans. Forget the 3-5 record. Forget those first eight games. The possibilities are endless from this point forward.
“It starts with me,“ Polian said. “I have to figure this out.“
Polian was given a gift from above Saturday night whether he knows it or not. His offense is finally alive. The football Gods made a decision that he was afraid to make on his own.
“He plays better under the lights than he does in practice,” said Polian of Gangi. “(Offensive coordinator) Tim Cramsey always said he had a hunch Gangi would be better under the lights. Some guys just are like that.”
Wolf Pack legend Chris Vargas was like that. Vargas’ teammates did things with Vargas on the field that they simply didn’t do with any other quarterback. He brought out the best in everyone around him. If there was a serious criticism of Stewart, it’s that he never seemed to light a fire under his teammates. They all liked and respected him. They just never played their tails off for him. Stewart played conservatively, by the book, said all the right things and simply did what he was told. And his teammates, for the most part, followed his lead and did the same.
Gangi, like Vargas, seems to make his teammates reach for the sky.
“We showed resolve on the sideline and everybody kept competing,” Polian said.
Gipson, who had been largely ignored the last two seasons by Stewart, returned to the Pack offense in a big way on Saturday with three catches and a touchdown. Hasaan Henderson made tough catches again. The little-used Brandon Scott and Ahki Muhammad each made important catches. The offensive line looked like the old dominating Union once again. And the Pack offense scored points in bunches.
Just like the old days.
“I was impressed with the way the offense rallied around him,” said Polian of Gangi.
It’s called leadership. The position of quarterback has been devoid of it in Nevada the last couple years.
“When Ty Gangi went in there, (offensive lineman) Jeremy Macauley went up to him and said to him, ‘It’s your time to lead us,’” Gipson said. “And that’s what he (Gangi) did. He put up 34 points and led us down the field.”
And into a new era.
Joe Santoro covers the Wolf Pack football and basketball teams.