BLUE FRIDAY: Down 17 points, Nevada Wolf Pack stuns No. 4 Boise State, 34-31
For the Nevada Appeal
RENO – The Nevada Wolf Pack football program now has its signature moment.
“There’s no such thing as Black Friday,” beamed Wolf Pack head coach Chris Ault Friday night. “It’s Blue Friday.”
Forget one day. It might be time to name an entire month after the Wolf Pack football team after Friday night.
The Wolf Pack rallied from a 24-7 halftime deficit to stun the Boise State Broncos, 34-31, in front of a sold-out Mackay Stadium crowd of 30,712 on a 34-yard field goal in overtime by Anthony Martinez.
“This is the greatest victory in the history of this football program,” Ault said. “This victory sets the tone for this entire university. It’s the type of victory we can build on, live on.”
It’s the type of victory that could propel the Wolf Pack to its first Western Athletic Conference title since 2005. The Pack, now 11-1 overall and 6-1 in the WAC, will need to win at Louisiana Tech next Saturday to earn at least a share of the championship.
“We have a chance to be champions,” Ault said.
Boise State, now 10-1, 6-1, also still has a chance to grab a share of the title. But the Broncos, who came into the game as the No. 4 team in the Bowl Championship Series standings, probably don’t feel like champions this morning. The loss likely eliminated the Broncos from any chance at playing in the BCS title game.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore said. “Hopefully we’ll learn something from this.”
“They made more plays than us,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “We knew they were a heck of a team. They grinded it out and got it done when it mattered.”
Boise State nearly won the game on the final play of regulation. Moore completed an improbable 53-yard pass to wide receiver Titus Young down to the Wolf Pack 9-yard line with two seconds to play but Kyle Brotzman missed a 26-yard field goal.
“I wanted to grab somebody by the throat,” Ault said of the play that Moore and Young made. “That was really a poor defensive play.”
The Pack thought their chance at the program’s greatest victory had ended.
“I was praying,” Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick said, “just hoping for one more chance.”
The Pack got their chance.
“When he missed it I just said, ‘OK, we got this one. Let’s go get it,” Ault said.
Brotzman also gave the Pack another chance. The senior also missed a 29-yard field goal on the Broncos’ first possession in overtime. Martinez, a red-shirt freshman from McQueen High, didn’t miss his chance to win the game on the Pack’s first chance in overtime.
“To put a freshman in that pressure situation is tough,” Kaepernick said. “But he came through with a great kick.”
The Pack also won this game with defense, holding Boise State to just seven points in the second half and overtime.
“Our defense kept us in this game,” Ault said.
Boise State’s celebrated defense was supposed to be the difference between the two teams.
“All we heard was how great Boise’s defense was,” Ault said. “And they have a great defense. That’s the best defense we’ve faced since I came back (in 2004). We’ve never seen a defense like that. But they never saw an offense like ours.”
Boise State’s Petersen is now 31-2 in WAC games.
“I have all the respect in the world for Boise,” Ault said. “They have the greatest young coach in America. That’s a great football team.”
The Wolf Pack, ranked 19th in the BCS, were even greater on Friday.
“It’s unbelievable,” Kaepernick said. “I don’t even know what to say.”
The victory ends a frustrating 10-game losing streak to Boise State for the Pack. It also ended Boise’s 24-game winning streak, the longest in the nation.
“I can’t find a way to explain it,” Nevada running back Vai Taua said. “It’s incredible. But this team has a lot of fight in it.”
The fight was nowhere to be found in the first half. Boise State, just like the last three games against Nevada, jumped out to a huge lead to start the game.
This time it was 24-7 at halftime as Doug Martin scored a pair of rushing touchdowns (from 4 and 51 yards out) and Moore connected with Titus Young on a 26-yard touchdown pass.
“We didn’t come out with as much energy as we needed,” defensive end Dontay Moch said.
The only bright spot in the first half for the Wolf Pack was avoiding being shut out (thanks to a 5-yard touchdown run by Taua) in the first half for the second time this year.
Taua’s touchdown cut the Broncos lead to 17-7. But it took Boise State all of three plays to answer Taua’s score as Martin capped a three-play, 85-yard drive with a 51-yard touchdown run down the left sideline for a 24-7 lead.
“They moved the ball pretty easily on our defense in the first half,” Ault said.
Brotzman gave the Broncos a 3-0 lead with a 33-yard field goal with 6:28 to play in the first quarter. Martin then made it 10-0 on a 4-yard touchdown run just five plays into the second quarter and Moore’s touchdown pass to Young made it 17-0 with 5:55 to play in the half.
Moore was nearly perfect in the first half, completing 12-of-14 passes for 162 yards. The junior lefthander completed seven passes in a row at one point for 75 yards.
The Pack comeback didn’t really take shape until late in the third quarter when Kaepernick scored on an acrobatic 18-yard run to cut Boise’s lead to 24-14. And it became 24-21 early in the fourth quarter on a 44-yard run by Rishard Matthews.
Matthews also caught 10 passes for 172 yards.
“Rishard Matthews is one of the best receivers in this conference,” Ault said. “And you haven’t seen the best of him yet.”
A Martinez 23-yard field goal tied the game at 24-24 with five minutes to play but Boise jumped right back on top with a 79-yard screen pass for a touchdown from Moore to Martin for a 31-24 lead just 21 seconds later.
The Pack, though, didn’t quit.
“We never feel like we’re going to lose,” Taua said. “Whenever we step out on that field we think we’re going to win.”
No matter the score. No matter the opponent.
Matthews caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Kaepernick to tie the game at 31-31 with 13 seconds to play in regulation.
“To win like we did, to come back in a game like this against an opponent like that, well, it’s all of the great things you believe in as a coach,” Ault said. “It’s very special.”