Defense saves the best for last | NevadaAppeal.com

Defense saves the best for last

STEVE RANSON
Appeal News Service

RENO – The Wolf Pack’s defense has been the center of controversy this season since Nevada squandered late leads in five games, all resulting in losses.

Defense, though, was the name of the game Saturday as the Pack hammered the Bulldogs, 49-10, in the final Western Athletic Conference game of the season for both teams.

“They played well. They played with energy,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said of the defense. “The offense kept them off the field. We’ve been hitting and missing all year.”

Nevada is now 52-4 when the defense allows a team 21 or fewer points.

The Pack stuffed La. Tech’s running game for 55 yards and allowed 173 yards passing, the longest pass being 24 yards.

“We stopped the run well today,” said defensive coordinator Ken Wilson. “That helped us, and we got some turnovers. Our seniors did a good job getting ready. They really performed.”

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Although Wilson said Nevada’s defense played well against Idaho and Utah State, he felt Saturday’s game was the most complete.

“Effort wise and pressure wise, this is the best game they’ve played. It shows what these guys can do.”

Linebacker Ezra Butler was distraught after Nevada’s loss to San Jose State last week. With his voice choking and tears forming in his eyes, he said the younger players needed to play hard on defense for all four quarters.

Saturday’s game against La. Tech showed what defensive teamwork could achieve.

“The program’s based on tradition and legacy,” he said. “We (the seniors) wanted to leave our mark and our stand. We told them that this was it, and it comes once in a lifetime.”

SAMMONS SCORES TWICE

Kyle Sammons had one of his best performances of the season as he caught eight passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns.

“During practice, I caught a fair amount of balls,” he said. “I wasn’t surprised. I was happy I did so well on senior day. If felt like no one could stop you. We were having fun pretty much like playing backyard football.”

Ault said Sammons has been a terrific route-runner for the Pack, and that became apparent when Sammons broke free in the third quarter on a post pattern for a 74-yard pass play from quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick said he was disappointed Sammons fell short of 200 yards.

“One more yard would have been the perfect way for him to go out,” he said. “He did a great job today.”

SENIOR DAY

Ault reflected on a small group of players when a reporter asked him about this year’s 15 seniors. The seniors, who were honored before the game, include Adam Bishop, Ezra Butler, Jay Dixon, Jeremy Engstrom, Nick Fuhr, Matt Hines, Justin Jackson, Charles Manu, Paul Pratt, Alex Rosenblum, Kyle Sammons, Shannon Sevor, Devon Walker, Brandon Walsh and Zachary Whited.

“All 15 of them have played an intricate role this season,” Ault said. “Usually, you have some seniors who don’t, but this group is unusual. They’ve paid their dues to the company. I’m really proud of them.”

Defensive tackle Matt Hines said the seniors had a good feeling playing their last game at Mackay Stadium.

“We didn’t want to be that senior class that messed up or had a losing record,” he said.

BOWL WATCHING

Many players said they were going to watch the Hawaii-Washington game on television Saturday night.

A convincing Hawaii win could give the Warriors an invitation to a BCS bowl, thus freeing up a WAC-sponsored bowl for fourth-place Nevada.

“It’s definitely a possibility,” Kaepernick said. “We’re just hoping for the best, and it works out in our favor.”

Hines said he had family in town, and they were going to watch the game.

La. Tech coach Derek Dooley said the Pack is worthy of postseason play.

“They’re a good football team, bowl eligible and certainly deserving of a bowl game,” he said.