It’s a special day for Wolf Pack
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – Defense and special teams got the ball rolling for Nevada in the first quarter, but it was the offense that finished the job.
Nevada scored 20 fourth-quarter points to break away from Idaho and grab a 37-21 victory Saturday afternoon at Mackay Stadium before a crowd of 11,960.
The win evened Nevada’s overall record at 4-4 and its WAC record at 2-2. Nevada is now two wins from being bowl eligible with four games left on its schedule.
“Our kickoff and punt coverage was outstanding,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said. “Those were two areas of grave concern. I’m pleased. We did an outstanding job.
“Defensively I thought we played well. We’re starting to build some nice energy. That last Idaho touchdown we had three dumb penalties. That’s tough to deal with. We have to knock that stuff off. In the fourth quarter the offense got after it.”
Nevada, after building a 17-0 first-quarter lead, slowed down quite a bit. The Pack found itself in a 17-14 game when it took control at its own 13 with 3:17 left in the third quarter.
When the proverbial smoke cleared, Nevada had gone on an 87-yard, 18-play drive capped by a Luke Lippincott 2-yard touchdown run to take a commanding 24-14 lead with 10:01 left in the game. The 18 plays was a season best for the Pack.
Ault has a reputation as a fourth-down gambler, and he went for it on fourth-and-1 not once, but twice on that drive which turned the game decidedly in Nevada’s favor.
The first gamble was from his own 32, and it was a make-or-break situation.
“The first thing I told them was we’re going for it,” Ault said. “That’s the type of confidence we have. It’s not one of those things where you flip a coin. It’s a gamble. I think we’re confident on this stuff that we can run the football.”
Kaepernick kept the ball on a sneak, and thanks to a little push from behind by Lippincott, he surged ahead to the 35 for the much-needed first down.
“We want to stay on the field and put points on the board,” Kaepernick said when asked about the first fourth-down gamble.
Runs of 12 and 13 by Lippincott plus a 13-yard screen pass to Lippincott pushed the ball to the 17. Lippincott picked up a first down at the 13, but an incomplete pass and two short runs left Nevada facing a fourth-and-1 from the Idaho 4.
This one was a no-brainer. You don’t keep the ball for this long and get that close not to go for it. Lippincott got the first down on the next play, and then three plays later, scored on a 2-yard run. Brett Jaekle’s PAT made it 24-14.
“We had plenty of opportunities to stop them,” Idaho coach Robb Akey said. “It’s very disappointing. We have been banging away at a rock wall. We have been making progress, but we need to break that wall.”
Nevada’s defense held on the ensuing possession, and the offense put together another scoring drive of more than 80 yards. It only took the Pack six plays to travel the 85 yards.
Lippincott (27-119) opened the possession with a 15-yard run to the 30. On third-and-9 from the Nevada 31, Kaepernick found Kyle Sammons for 23 yards to the Idaho 46. Kaepernick eluded a blitz on the next play, scrambling 18 yards for a first down at the 28.
On the next play, Kaepernick found Marko Mitchell in the end zone. The ball wasn’t thrown very well, but Mitchell came back and made a nice catch to make it 31-17 with 4:22 remaining.
“That was not a well-thrown ball,” Ault said. “Marko made a good play on that.”
Defense and special teams paved the way to a 17-0 lead.
Nevada’s defense helped set up the opening score. The Vandals were held to minus-9 on their first possession, and Nick Fuhr’s third-down sack forced Idaho to punt.
Alex Rosenblum returned the ensuing punt 19 yards down to Idaho’s 33, and the Wolf Pack was in the end zone seven plays later on Lippincott’s 1-yard TD run. An 11-yard completion to Sammons and a 10-yard run by Kaepernick set up the score.
Another outstanding punt return by Rosenblum, a 29-yarder, gave the Pack a first down at the Idaho 37.
Nevada managed one first down and got the ball down to the Idaho 15 when the drive unraveled. Kaepernick was nailed for a 7-yard sack by JoArtis Ratti on third down, and Brett Jaekle came on to kick a 37-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead with 3:55 remaining.
Nevada’s defense came up big on the next series. On third-and-8 from his own 17, freshman quarterback Quin Ashley was under siege by Nevada linebacker Kevin Porter. Instead of taking the sack, Ashley threw a weak pass that Ezra Butler picked off at the 11 and returned for a score. Jaekle’s PAT made it 17-0.
“He (Quin Ashley) was trying to get rid of the ball and not get sacked,” Akey said. “It was a screen play.”
One that Butler read well.
“It was a field blitz,” Butler said. “I just felt that the play was kind of weird. The running back kind of leaked out, so I moved up. He threw it right to me.”
It was the start of a good day for the defense. The Pack, playing exclusively a 4-3 scheme, held Deonte Jackson, the WAC’s leading rusher, to a mere 45 yards. Idaho had only 212 yards total.
“They came out with a very good game plan,” Jackson said. “They did a good job scouting us. I knew they would focus very much on my side. I’m pretty sure all week they got after their running game (defense).”
“We played well,” nose tackle Matt Hines said. “It gives us a little confidence. We’re starting to make plays.”
Idaho did come back with a score in the second quarter and one on its first possession of the third quarter.
Dwayne Sanders fumbled the second-half kickoff return. Idaho recovered, and six plays later, Enderle threw an 18-yard scoring pass to Eric Greenwood. The PAT cut the lead to 17-14 with 12:26 left.
“We play better when we fight back,” Enderle said. “It lets you know that the team doesn’t want to quit.”
Idaho didn’t quit, but in the end Nevada’s offensive execution and abiity to control the ball on the ground thanks to its offensive line made the difference.