For first time since 1980, Pistol fires a blank
Appeal Sports Writer
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – College football’s longest active scoring streak came to a shocking end on a cold, windy afternoon.
New Mexico’s attacking, blitzing defense completely stymied Nevada, and the Lobos made 20 first-half points stand up in a 23-0 New Mexico Bowl victory before an announced crowd of 30,223 at University Stadium.
The last time Nevada, 6-7, was shut out was in 1980 against Weber State (10-0), a streak spanning 329 Division 1A games, and it’s the only time until Saturday that a Chris Ault team had been shut out.
To give you an idea of how long that streak lasted, Jimmy Carter was President of the United State and the U.S. hockey team beat the Soviet Union en route to an Olympic gold medal.
And, never in his wildest dreams did Ault think his team could be dominated like it was. Nevada finished with only 210 yards on offense, its worst effort since the Nebraska game. Nevada’s deepest penetration was in the second quarter when it turned the ball over on downs at the New Mexico 30.
And, Ault said he wasn’t thinking about the streak or conceding it was over when he punted the ball away late in the game.
“Absolutely,” Ault said. “It’s certainly a compliment to their defense. I’m so disappointed because the offense has been our bell-cow all year long. Our offense played as poorly as it has in a long time.
“The last thing I was thinking about was the streak. I was thinking about kicking the ball and the defense coming up with a turnover. I was just trying to score points.”
Points? That was wishful thinking.
For a team that supposedly was having trouble stopping Nevada’s pistol offense in practice, as coach Rocky Long had indicated at Friday’s press conference, the Lobos looked pretty darn good.
“I thought our kids executed real well,” Long said. “We really did have trouble in practice. That first week, our scout team quarterback scored seven touchdowns running the ball on bootlegs. It helps to have 2 1/2 weeks to prepare instead of three days.”
Nevada struggled the entire first half offensively against the Lobos’ attacking, blitzing defense. The Pack managed only 148 yards, an average of 4.1 per play. Luke Lippincott, who finished with 40 yards on 10 carries, was held to 26 yards on seven carries in the first half, and freshman quarterback Colin Kaepernick only completed 8 of 17 for 99 yards in that span.
The Pack managed a paltry seven first downs on its seven first-half possessions, and three of those came on Nevada’s final drive of the half when it turned the ball over on downs at the Lobos’ 34.
The first series was a microcosm of the first quarter, which saw the Lobos rack up 172 of their 548 total yards.
After two short runs put the ball at the 34, Donovan Porterie (20 of 36, 354 yards), the game’s offensive MVP, found Marcus Smith on a crossing pattern. Smith caught the ball just short of midfield, slipped a tackle by safety Justin Jackson and went untouched the rest of the way. John Sullivan’s extra point made it 7-0 with 13:38 left.
“That was all me,” Jackson said. “It was a crossing route. I started over. He was too fast. I just couldn’t get over to the other side of the field.”
Nevada lost a good scoring opportunity midway through the opening quarter after Josh Mauga forced New Mexico receiver Roland Bruno to fumble. Uche Anyanwu recovered at the New Mexico 46.
The Pack’s ensuing drive got off to a slow start when Brandon Fragger was thrown for a 4-yard loss back to the 50. Kaepernick overthrew Mike McCoy on second down, but hooked up with Marko Mitchell for 12 yards down to the Lobos’ 38. On fourth-and-2, Nevada was called for a 5-yard penalty, forcing the Pack to punt.
The Lobos’ offense bounced right back with an impressive 80-yard, 5-play scoring drive.
Porterie completed a 23-yard pass to Travis Brown for a first down at the Lobo 43. Two plays later, Porterie tossed a screen pass to Paul Baker for a first down at the Nevada 34. Baker, filling in for the ineligible Rodney Ferguson, carried 22 times for 167 yards.
A false start pushed the ball back to the 39, and two plays later, Porterie found Brown wide open behind Anyanwu to complete the 39-yard pass-and-catch play.
Jackson said the second pass play was more of the Lobos calling the right play for the scheme that Nevada was in.
New Mexico added two field goals of 53 and 45 yards, respectively, to make it 20-0 with 2:48 left in the second quarter. The field goals made Sullivan a perfect 11-for-11 on field goals of 40 yards or more.
Kaepernick completed passes of 13 and 24 to Mitchell to get the ball down to New Mexico’s 34, but Fragger fumbled and the Lobos’ George Carter recovered at the 40.
Again, it was a case of the Nevada shooting itself in the foot. Nevada committed six first-half penalties and at least three of them wiped out positive-yardage plays.
The Lobos drove down to Nevada’s 3 on their next possession, and that’s when the Pack truly dodged a bullet.
On first-and-goal, tight end Chris Mark dropped a pass in the end zone, and then cornerback Kenny Viser blocked Sullivan’s 20-yard field goal attempt.
Nevada played much better defense in the final 30 minutes, holding the Lobos to a field goal en route to winning their first game since the 1961 Aviation Bowl over Central Michigan.
“Our defense played their hearts out,” Ault said. “Our defense I thought played well.
“We blocked two field goals (Matt Hines and Viser) and created turnovers (recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass). The offense had to take control and they didn’t do that.”