The Nevada Wolf Pack is going to a bowl game this season.
The Wolf Pack became bowl eligible for the first time in three seasons on Saturday night with a resounding 49-10 victory over the Colorado State Rams in the final home game of the season at Mackay Stadium.
“That (a bowl game) was a goal of ours,” Wolf Pack coach Jay Norvell said. “It was an expectation of ours, really.”
A slim crowd of just 13,755 the smallest at Mackay Stadium since just 13,390 showed up for the final home game in 2016, saw the Wolf Pack win for the third game in a row to improve to 6-4 overall and 4-2 in the Mountain West. The last Wolf Pack three-game winning streak was in 2015, the same season that ended in the Pack’s last bowl game, a 28-23 win over the Rams in the Arizona Bowl in a matchup of two Mountain West teams.
“It’s awesome,” Wolf Pack senior quarterback Ty Gangi said. “I’ve never been to a bowl game before. It feels great. And now we just want to get to a good one.”
The 39-point victory is the second largest since Norvell became head coach in 2017, after a 45-point (59-14) win over San Jose State last year.
“We were hungry to play and it showed,” Norvell said.
Colorado State, though, never put up much of a fight, falling behind 28-0 at halftime and 49-0 after three quarters. The Rams have now lost three games in a row to fall to 3-7 overall and 2-4 in the Mountain West. The loss to the Wolf Pack also eliminates the Rams from bowl eligibility this season after playing in the postseason for the last five years in a row.
Gangi, playing his final game at Mackay Stadium along with 16 other seniors, completed 28-of-35 passes for 404 yards and four touchdowns. Gangi now has an 8-4 record over his last dozen starts to improve to 11-12 for his Pack career.
“We just had a lot of fun out there tonight,” Gangi said. “It’s what I wanted for my last game here at Mackay. It couldn’t have been a better ending.”
The Wolf Pack outgained the Rams 636-260 and had more first downs, 29-13.
“I’m really happy our seniors played so well in their last home game at Mackay,” Norvell said. “But I really think our seniors expected to do well. I don’t think they are surprised by their performance.”
Senior Malik Reed led the defense with nine tackles and also had a sack and a forced fumble. The Pack defense sacked Rams quarterback Collin Hill five times and had eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Senior Asauni Rufus had an interception on the Rams’ first drive of the game.
The only thing missing for the Wolf Pack on Saturday was the team’s first shutout since 2006.
“We wanted it very badly,” Rufus said. “It kind of stung a little bit to see them score (all 10 points came in the fourth quarter). But I’ll take (giving up) 10 points every game.”
“We talked about getting a shutout,” Norvell said. “But it’s hard to shut people out. But I also think that we have a shutout in us.”
The Wolf Pack, which still trails its series with Colorado State 12-4, overwhelmed the Rams in the first half, taking a 28-0 lead at the break on three Gangi touchdown passes. The 28-point lead after 30 minutes is the second largest halftime lead since Norvell took over the program, after a 38-7 lead at the half against San Jose State last year.
The Wolf Pack scored on three of its final four drives in the second quarter. Two of the second-quarter scores came on Gangi passes, 38 yards to Elijah Cooks for a 13-0 lead with nine minutes to go in the half and 36 yards to Romeo Doubs for a 28-0 lead just a minute before halftime. Gangi, who completed 19-of-24 passes for 250 yards in the first half, opened the scoring with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Doubs on the Pack’s first drive of the night six minutes into the game.
Doubs finished the first half with seven catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns. He added just one catch for 12 yards in the second half to finish with eight catches for 120 yards.
The only Pack touchdown of the first half that didn’t come off of Gangi’s right arm was a 1-yard scoring run by Devonte Lee in the second quarter. Lee’s touchdown was set up by a 48-yard run up the middle by Toa Taua, who finished the night with a game-high 83 yards on just 12 carries. Taua actually out-rushed Colorado State (just 74 rushing yards) all by himself.
The Wolf Pack simply dominated the Rams in the first half, piling up more first downs (16-3) and yards (327-82) than the Rams. Colorado State had just 43 yards rushing and 39 yards passing in the first half. Hill was just 9-of-15 in the first half and finished the game 23-of-40 for 186 yards.
The Rams offense, though, never ventured past midfield in the first half. The only time the Rams got as far as the 50 (on their first drive), Rufus picked off an errant Hill pass on the very next play.
“We’ve been gearing for this type of game for a while,” Rufus said. “I just feel like we were due for this type of game.”
The Wolf Pack, which lost at Colorado State 44-42 last year, picked up in the third quarter right where it left off at the end of the first half. The Pack shredded the Rams for three more touchdowns in the third quarter to take a 49-0 lead going into the final 15 minutes.
“Ty was real sharp,” Norvell said. “We challenged him to take care of the ball (he was not intercepted) and we challenged him to be accurate (he threw just seven incomplete passes). He made some great throws.”
The Pack’s first scoring drive of the third quarter covered 86 yards on nine plays and ended in another 1-yard scoring run by Lee. Gangi also completed key passes to Kaleb Fossum (15 yards), McLane Mannix (30) and Doubs (12) on the drive.
The Pack made the score 42-0 with a 94-yard drive as Gangi kick started things with a 12-yard run. Backup running back Jaxson Kincaide also chipped in with a 33-yard run on the drive. Kincaide then finished it off with a seven-yard run for the touchdown, his second touchdown of the season and fifth of his career.
It took the Wolf Pack just four plays to go 54 yards for its third touchdown of the third quarter and final score of the game. Taua picked up nine yards on a pair of runs and Gangi also found Cooks for a 17-yard gain on the drive. Gangi then tossed his fourth touchdown pass of the game, a 28-yard strike to Fossum. The touchdown is Fossum’s first this season and the first of his two-year Pack career.
“It was great to see him get his first touchdown,” Gangi said. “He deserves it.”
“It’s still hard to believe he hadn’t scored here as a member of the Wolf Pack,” Norvell said. “We were beginning to think there was some sort of force field on the goal line for Fossum. But it as great to see him score.”
The Rams scored in the fourth quarter to prevent the Wolf Pack’s first shutout since a pair of back-to-back 42-0 wins over Utah State and Louisiana Tech late in the 2006 season. The Rams scored a touchdown with 8:32 to play on an 8-yard pass from Hill to Preston Williams, capping off a nine-play, 48-yard drive. Wyatt Bryan added a 32-yard field goal with 4:21 to play for the Rams.
The Wolf Pack will complete its regular season with games at San Jose State on Saturday and at UNLV on Nov. 24.
“We just want to see just how good this football team can be,” Norvell said. “I still believe we can be better than we were (on Saturday). That’s what we’re challenging our kids to do over these next few weeks, to continue to play better.”