Nevada football beats New Mexico
For the Appeal
The Nevada Wolf Pack feels like it just might have turned its season around on Saturday.
“This time last week it was like the sky was falling and the season was over,” Wolf Pack coach Brian Polian said after a 35-17 victory over the New Mexico Lobos at Mackay Stadium. “This week we showed a lot of resiliency and character.”
The Wolf Pack also pointed its season back in the right direction with its first Mountain West victory of the year in front of a crowd of 20,426. The Pack, now 3-3 overall and 1-1 in the Mountain West, rushed for 351 yards and three touchdowns and held New Mexico’s potent ground game to just 135 yards.
“If somebody would have told me before the game that we would average 6.5 yards a carry and hold them to 3.5 yards a carry I would have said, ‘Sign me up,’” Polian said. “Our defense was outstanding.”
New Mexico, also now 3-3, 1-1, had been averaging 290 yards a game on the ground with its run-oriented option offense.
“We knew we had to stop the run, first and foremost,” said Pack linebacker Jordan Dobrich who had a game-high 12 tackles and recovered a Lobo fumble in the end zone. “I do think we have something special going on defense now.”
The Wolf Pack offense also turned in a special performance, piling up 30 first downs and 517 total yards. Don Jackson had 152 yards rushing and James Butler had 145. Stewart was also efficient, running for 57 yards and two touchdowns and completing 16-of-19 passes for 166 yards and two more scores.
“The sky’s the limit for this offense,” Jackson said.
The 35 points are the Pack’s most in a game since a 49-27 win at UNLV late last November.
“Scoring 35 points, I’ll take that any night,” Stewart said.
“We always talk about when we get down there we can’t settle for field goals. We have to make sure we help our defense out and get in the end zone and we did that.”
The Wolf Pack took a 14-10 lead at halftime on two second-quarter touchdowns, a 13-yard run by Stewart and a 15-yard run by Butler.
New Mexico, though, led 3-0 in the first quarter after a gift from the Wolf Pack’s special teams. A Lobo punt bounced off the Wolf Pack’s Elijah Mitchell, giving New Mexico the ball at the Pack 25-yard line.
The Pack defense, though, minimized the damage and forced the Lobos to settle for a 42-yard field goal by Zack Rogers.
“Sometimes that’s just bad luck,” said Polian of Mitchell’s fumble.
New Mexico also took a brief 10-7 lead on a 38-yard touchdown run by Teriyon Gipson with just 3:42 to go in the half. The Pack, though, answered quickly with Butler’s 15-yard scoring run just 64 seconds later for a 14-10 lead at the break. Butler had 101 yards at the half and Jackson had 69.
“We felt like we had a chance to run the ball effectively on this team,” Polian said.
Stewart, who was 7-of-10 through the air for 40 yards in the first half, threw just one pass in the second quarter. The Wolf Pack’s first touchdown drive (eight plays for 80 yards ending in Stewart’s 13-yard score) all came on the ground.
The Pack’s second scoring drive consisted of one 12-yard Stewart pass to tight end Jarred Gipson and three runs. Jackson broke free for 42 yards up the middle down to the New Mexico 21 and Butler then went for six and 15 yards on two carries for the 14-10 lead.
“All week we were talking about how we had to go back to doing what we do best and that is to run the ball,” Stewart said.
The Lobos never did stop the Pack ground game. Jackson and Butler both averaged 6.9 yards a carry and Stewart scrambled for 6.3 a carry.
“Don and James were both great,” said Polian of Jackson and Butler. “We broke tackles, we ran hard, we made people miss. I’m very proud of those two guys.”
“After last week (a 23-17 loss to UNLV) guys felt disrespected and felt they had a lot to prove,” Jackson said. “Today we came together.”
The Wolf Pack took a 21-10 lead in the third quarter on a 10-yard touchdown run by Stewart. The nine-play, 83-yard scoring drive consisted of seven runs and two passes (both to Jerico Richardson for 27 and 7 yards). Richardson finished with nine catches for 121 yards.
“I try to spread the ball around to the guys that is open,” Stewart said. “It just so happened that he was open most of the time.”
The Pack defense stopped New Mexico’s offense cold in the third quarter, holding the Lobos to just one first down and 35 yards.
“We just did our job,” Pack defensive end Lenny Jones said. “When you do your job you can stop good offenses like that.”
New Mexico’s best offense in the second half was actually its defense. Cornerback Nias Martin returned a Stewart fumble 77 yards for a touchdown to cut the Pack’s lead to just 21-17 with 14:47 to play.
“I can’t do that,” said Stewart, who pulled the ball back after faking a handoff and then just dropped the ball as he headed to his right. “That is unacceptable. I beat myself up over that but the guys had my back. That really helped.”
It took Stewart and the Pack just four plays and less than two minutes to shake off the fumble. Jackson exploded for a 50-yard run on first down. New Mexico was then called for pass interference in the end zone three plays later, giving the Pack the ball at the 8-yard line. Stewart then capped off the drive with an 8-yard scoring pass to Gipson for a 28-17 lead with 13 minutes to go.
New Mexico, though, then changed quarterbacks and seemed headed to another touchdown. Backup quarterback Austin Apodaca breathed life into the stagnant Lobos offense, completing eight passes for 64 yards. On a second-and-four play from the Pack 11-yard line Apodaca found wide receiver Dameon Gamblin for 10 yard to the 1-yard line. Gamblin, though, fumbled the ball away into the end zone where it was recovered by Dobrich with eight minutes to play.
“It felt like the momentum was swinging the other way a couple times,” Polian said. “But our guys did a terrific job of keeping their poise.”
Stewart then put the game away, leading the Pack on a 13-play scoring drive. Butler and Jackson once again did most of the heavy lifting on the drive, combining for 10 carries and 40 yards. But Stewart also found Richardson for three yards and a 27-yard touchdown with 1:18 to play.
“It was a good performance and something to build off of,” Polian said. “But we’re by no means a finished product.”
The Wolf Pack will play at Wyoming next Saturday.
“Last week we had to bury the loss (to UNLV) after 24 hours and this week there’s no difference,” Polian said. “This week we have to bury the win after 24 hours.”
There was, however, noticeable difference between this week and last week.
“When we got in the locker room (after beating New Mexico),” Jones said, “we celebrated.”
“There’s definitely a different feeling in the locker room,” Dobrich said. “Spirits are high.”