A win for the ages
For the Nevada Appeal
RENO – Opportunity came knocking on the Nevada Wolf Pack’s door Friday night. And this time the Pack wasn’t asleep on the couch.
The Wolf Pack, in one of the most significant victories of its 104-year history, trounced the California Golden Bears, 52-31, before a sold-out and delirious crowd at Mackay Stadium.
“My heart is beating like a million times a second,” Wolf Pack linebacker James-Michael Johnson said after the game. “I’ve never been a part of something like this.”
Yes, Pack, fans, you can now party like its 1903. That was the last (and only other) time the Wolf Pack beat the boys from Berkeley, Calif.
“This is why you come to a school like this to play Division I football,” Pack cornerback Doyle Miller said. “This is a great feeling.”
“This is a great win, no question,” Pack head coach Chris Ault said. “This team is now in the history books. They’ve made history.”
The victory over Cal is the Pack’s first over a Top 25 team (Cal was 24th in the coaches poll this week) since it beat No. 16 Fresno State in 2006.
It was the Pack’s first victory over a Pac-10 team since beating Washington in 2003. It was the first victory over a team from a BCS conference since it beat Northwestern of the Big Ten in 2006.
The victory also gives the Pack a 3-0 record for the first time in the school’s Division I-A history (since 1992).
It was, simply, one of the greatest victories in school history.
“It’s the biggest since I’ve been here,” Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick said.
The Wolf Pack, as usual, beat the Bears with a fully-loaded Kap pistol.
Kaepernick ran the Pack’s Pistol offense almost to perfection, shredding Cal’s top-ranked defense in the nation for 148 yards and three touchdowns and passing for 181 yards and two more scores.
“Our offensive line is amazing,” Kaepernick said. “52 points is a lot of points against a defense like that. But when you see the way our offensive line works all week in practice and how they just move people out of the way, it’s not surprising to me.”
The Pack defense also played a huge role in this victory, despite allowing Cal running back Shane Vereen to run wild for 198 yards and three touchdowns.
Pack safety Marlon Anderson returned an interception 65 yards for a touchdown and a 31-21 lead midway through the third quarter. The Pack also intercepted Cal quarterback Kevin Riley three times and sacked him twice.
“A team like that (Cal) is going to move the ball,” Ault said. “That’s a very good passing offense. But our defense came up with huge plays. Marlon’s play was the play of the game.”
Cal, which outgained the Pack, 502-497, also made its share of big plays. Vereen, for example, scored on runs of 59, 1 and 50 yards. But the Pack kept answering the door each time opportunity knocked.
The Wolf Pack took a 24-14 halftime lead as Kaepernick ran for two touchdowns (1 and 8 yards) and passed for one. Kaepernick moved the Pack 80 yards on 12 plays on the game’s first drive, finishing it off with a a 15-yard touchdown pass to Tray Session.
The touchdown was the first points Cal had allowed in the first half this year after one-sided victories over UC Davis and Colorado.
Cal, though, then tied the game in one electrifying play. Vereen took a pitch to the right, cut back up the middle and outraced the Pack defense for a 59-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7 with three minutes to go in the first quarter.
The Wolf Pack, as it did all night, answered right away.
The Pack kept the ball on the ground for 10 of 12 plays on their second scoring drive.
Taua had consecutive 10-yard runs for first downs early in the drive and a 9-yard gain down to the Cal 4-yard line. Kaepernick kept it himself four times for 20 yards, including a one-yard score for a 14-7 Wolf Pack lead.
The Wolf Pack defense then made its presence known.
The Pack defense overwhelmed Riley on three consecutive plays in the second quarter as James-Michael Johnson and defensive end Dontay Moch has sacks on back-to-back snaps.
The Wolf Pack then scored just five plays after a Cal punt as Kaepernick scored to cap a 47-yard drive with an 8-yard run for a 21-7 Pack lead with 8:22 to play in the half.
Cal, though, made things interesting late in the second quarter after forcing a Kaepernick fumble. Vereen did the honors, finishing off a short 21-yard, four play drive to cut the Pack lead to 21-14.
Vereen also cut the Pack lead to 24-21 early in the third quarter, scoring on a breathtaking 50-yard stroll through the Pack defense.
This time, though, the Pack defense answered.
Wolf Pack safety Marlon Johnson matched Vereen’s heroics almost stride for stride, picking off a short Riley pass for his first career interception and returning it 65 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown for a 31-21 Pack lead.
The Wolf Pack took a commanding 38-24 lead on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Kaepernick to Rishard Matthews and stretched its lead to 45-24 on a 54-yard run by Taua for a back-breaking score.
“At that point we just wanted to put the game away,” Taua said.
This is the type of victory the Pack has been waiting for.
“It’s been coming,” Ault said. “It’s been a while. But it’s been coming.”
And now it’s here.