EVANSTON, Ill. — Quarterback Clayton Thorson scored two touchdowns in the final six minutes and Northwestern beat Nevada 31-20 in Saturday’s opener for both teams.
Trailing 20-17 in the fourth quarter, Thorson directed a 75-yard drive that culminated in his following the block of right guard Tommy Doles to crash the end zone for a 24-20 lead. Thorson scored on another 1-yard plunge with 52 seconds to play, ending Nevada’s upset hopes in Jay Norvell’s first game as Wolf Pack coach.
“To get to the locker room down two (scores) and go back in two shows a lot of resiliency,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “But we’ve got a ton of work to do.”
Nevada led 17-7 after a pair of Ty Gangi touchdown passes and Spencer Pettit’s 31-yard field goal late in the first half, but squandered the advantage in the third quarter. Following Charlie Kuhbander’s 23-yard field goal, Northwestern tied the game at 17 on Thorson’s 19-yard TD pass to Riley Lee.
“I had some throws I wish I could have taken back; decisions I wish I could have taken back,” said Gangi, whose one interception stopped a drive on the Northwestern 20. “We came to win. We just didn’t come out on top.”
Spencer Pettit’s 33-yard field goal with 10:13 to play moved Nevada ahead, 20-17. But Thorson, 6 of 7 pass completions on the subsequent drive and 28 of 38 for 352 yards overall, moved Northwestern to the 1-yard line, then ran it in for the score that gave the Wildcats the lead for good.
Nevada: The Wolf Pack showed plenty in Norvell’s first game as head coach, for three quarters.
Northwestern: Thorson’s 163.6 quarterback rating may not hold up all year, but it signified why coach Pat Fitzgerald has faith in the junior.
Nevada: The Wolf Pack return home to host MAC foe Toledo next week.
Northwestern: The Wildcats travel to Duke for a rematch of last year’s 24-13 Northwestern win.
With his second reception of the game, senior WR Wyatt Demps went over 1,000 receiving yards in his career. He finished the game with five catches, to lead the team, and 51 yards.
Junior DB Asauni Rufus forced a fumble in the second quarter, the fifth of his career. The fumble was recovered by junior DB Vosean Crumbie, the first of his career with the Pack. The fumble halted a Northwestern drive inside the Nevada 15-yard line.
Senior LB Austin Paulhus set a career high in single-game tackles with 15, which led the team. His previous single-game best was 10, set in 2016. Of his 15 total tackles, 3.5 went for a loss.
Junior DB Dameon Baber also set a career high in single-game tackles with 11, besting his previous high of 10.
In the second quarter, junior QB Ty Gangi connected on a 41-yard touchdown pass to true freshman McLane Mannix, Mannix’s first collegiate touchdown reception. Mannix led the team with 76 yards receiving.
Sophomore RB Kelton Moore finished the game with five carries for 40 yards, including a long rush of 13 yards, all of which set career highs.
Junior CB Elijah Moody recorded his second career interception with just over 11 minutes to go in the game.
Nevada had seven student-athletes make their first career starts with the Pack: junior OL Anthony Palomares, junior TE Trae Carter-Wells, sophomore OL Jake Nelson, sophomore WR Brendan O’Leary-Orange, senior LB Travis Wilson, sophomore CB Elijah Moody and junior CB Vosean Crumbie.
The Pack had four true freshmen get into the game: DB Nephi Sewell, TE Reagan Roberson, WR McLane Mannix and WR Daiyan Henley.
Sophomore LB Gabriel Sewell and senior LB Austin Paulhus combined for a sack in the first quarter, the first of their careers. It took Nevada until the fourth game of the season in 2016 to record a sack.
Junior TE Brandon Scott recovered a fumble on a kick return in the third quarter, the first fumble recovery of his career.
With the departure of junior WR Kaleb Fossum in the third quarter, sophomore P Quinton Conaway became the Wolf Pack’s holder on sophomore Spencer Pettit’s 33-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
Nevada was 3-for-3 on its red zone scoring chances, converting on a touchdown and two field goals.
Nevada is now 1-6 all-time versus members of the Big Ten.
Nevada is now 61-46-3 all-time in season openers. This is the first season opener the Pack has lost since 2013 when it lost to UCLA.
The all-time series between Nevada and Northwestern now stands at a 2-1 advantage for Northwestern.