Aztecs send Pack to second straight loss
SAN DIEGO, Calif. — In a game featuring an elite run defense against a quality run offense, the defense prevailed.
Nevada was held to its lowest rushing total since 2004 and suffered a 31-14 setback to San Diego State on Saturday night at Qualcomm Stadium in the Pack’s final game of the regular season.
Quarterback Tyler Stewart passed for 200 yards in the first half and Nevada tied the game at 14-14 with minutes remaining in the second quarter. The Aztecs (9-3, 8-0) then scored the game’s final 17 points and held the Wolf Pack (6-6, 4-4) scoreless in the second half to tally their eighth consecutive win.
Nevada entered the game with 221 rushing yards per game and the nation’s 22nd-ranked rush offense, while the Aztecs boast the nation’s fifth-ranked rush defense. The Wolf Pack was limited to 35 rushing yards on 31 carries — a telling statistic that dictated the outcome of the game. Nevada, who was 5-1 this season when leading in rushing yards, was out-rushed by a 320-35 margin.
Jordan Dobrich matched a career-high with 16 tackles. Stewart passed for 228 yards while wide receiver Jerico Richardson caught six passes for 106 yards. Running back Don Jackson tallied 73 all-purpose yards and become the 19th player in program history to reach 1,000 rush yards in a single season.
After the winning the coin toss, San Diego State marched 67 yards in nine plays and took a 7-0 lead on Donnel Pumphrey’s 1-yard touchdown rush. The Pack responded with offensive fireworks, completing a 72-yard pass on its first play of the game as Stewart hit Richardson for a big gain. The Pack then tied the game 7-7 on fourth-and-goal from the four-yard line. Nevada lined up in a trick play formation before redshirt freshman quarterback Hunter Fralick scored on a QB-keeper for his first career touchdown.
The Aztecs responded with methodical rushing drive, taking a 14-7 lead on Rashaad Penny’s 14-yard rush to cap an 82-yard drive. Nevada looked to pull even before an interception in the end zone, but the Aztecs also missed out on points with a missed 28-yard field goal later in the second quarter.
Nevada then faced 3rd-and-6 at its own 36-yard line before running back Don Jackson caught a 24-yard pass out of the backfield. On the next play, Stewart threw to receiver Hasaan Henderson on a fade route down the right sideline. An Aztec appeared to make the original catch before Henderson wrestled the ball away to prevent an interception and complete a 39-yard pass down to the 1-yard line. On second down, Jackson fumbled at the goal line before Richardson recovered the ball in the back of the end zone, tying the game with 2:42 left in the half.
With less than 90 seconds remaining in the half, SDSU faced a third-and-20 deep in its own territory. Pumphrey broke free for a 72-yard touchdown rush, making it 21-14 in favor of the Aztecs at halftime. The Aztecs added to its lead with a 29-yard field goal with 2:58 left in the third quarter to lead by 10 points.
Late in the third quarter, Nevada lost a fumble on a botched snap and the Aztecs scored on a 2-yard rush on 4th-and-1 to make it 31-14 with 13:36 left in the game. Nevada lost another turnover in the fourth quarter as Damontae Kazee intercepted a Stewart pass on third-and-long. The Pack was out-scored 17-0 and out-gained 145-52 in the second half.
Dobrich was all over the field for Nevada’s defense, matching a career-high with 16 tackles. After allowing two scoring drives to open the game, Dobrich led a Nevada defense that settled down and played relatively strong football for the final three quarters. Dobrich now has 90 tackles on the year, which is the most tackles he’s ever had in a single season.
Henderson added to his highlight reel with an incredible 39-yard reception in the second quarter. On first-and-10 at the 40-yard line, Henderson ran a deep fly route down the right sideline. It appeared the play would end in an interception as an Aztec defensive back caught the ball in the air, but Henderson wrestled the ball away and claimed possession before landing at the 1-yard line. The play set up a touchdown two plays later that tied the game.
The Wolf Pack closes the regular season with a 6-6 overall record. Nevada will undoubtedly be disappointed to close the regular season with consecutive losses. A remedy for that would be a seventh win and a bowl victory, which would accomplish one of the team’s top goals entering the season — winning the program’s first bowl game since the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
Nevada will now await its bowl fate, which will become clear after conference championship games have concluded. The Wolf Pack has reached bowl eligibility for the 10th time in the past 11 seasons, which is a feat only four teams from outside the power five have accomplished. Nevada will be making its second bowl appearance under head coach Brian Polian.