Jefferson enjoys big day against Cal
For the Nevada Appeal
RENO – Stefphon Jefferson had more to worry about Saturday afternoon than just the California Golden Bears defense.
The Nevada Wolf Pack running back, the Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for 147 yards and three two-yard touchdowns in a 31-24 upset victory in Berkeley, Calif., got some disturbing news Saturday morning.
“I got the call from my sister at breakfast before the game,” the Wolf Pack junior said. “My family was involved in a car accident. They hit a diesel (truck) and had to go to the emergency room.”
Jefferson played against Cal without knowing the full extent of the injuries to his mother, her husband, his two brothers (Joshua and Braydon) and his sister (Talia), who were on their way to the Pack-Cal game from their home in Visalia, Calif.
Jefferson, however, did receive good news after the game.
“It turned out everyone was fine,” Jefferson said. “My brother (Joshua) suffered a fracture in his face and had to have surgery but everyone else just got some scrapes and bruises.”
Jefferson said he had his family on his mind all game long against Cal.
“I kind of played with a chip on my shoulder,” He said. “I wanted to score a touchdown for them.”
He nearly scored a touchdown for all five passengers in the car.
Jefferson’s memorable effort was just the 10th time since Chris Ault became head coach again in 2004 that a Pack running back gained at least 100 yards and scored at least three touchdowns in a game. Vai Taua did it twice in 2010, Luke Lippincott did it once in 2006 and 2009 and twice in 2007, B.J. Mitchell did it once in 2005 and Robert Hubbard did it twice in 2005.
“I knew I had to stay strong and play the game,” said Jefferson, who came to the Wolf Pack in 2009 after starring for El Diamante High in Visalia. “They all usually come to all my games but I knew they were there (on Saturday) in spirit.”
Jefferson became the first Pack back to rush for 100 yards since Lampford Mark had 183 against Southern Mississippi in the Hawaii Bowl last Christmas Eve and the first to score three touchdowns since Mark against New Mexico last Oct. 15 (Mark had just 39 yards in the game).
“I made a few mistakes,” Jefferson said. “I fumbled twice. But overall I did OK. I’m just gaining Coach Ault’s trust. He depends on me.”
Jefferson now has started three games in his Wolf Pack career and has gained 100 or more yards each time. He had 100 yards against UNLV and 108 against New Mexico last year in his previous two starts.
“He was great,” Ault said. “He put it on the ground a couple times so he has some work to do. But the good thing was, when he did make a mistake, he came back and played well.”
Ault, though, did not allow another running back to carry the ball against Cal, despite Jefferson’s fumbles in the third and fourth quarters. Both fumbles were recovered by the Wolf Pack (offensive linemen Kyle Roberts and Jeff Nady).
“I thought I was going to get taken out,” said Jefferson, who had a short leash last year because of the presence of running backs Mike Ball and then Mark, who are both gone this year. “But he didn’t take me out and that shows he trusts me. He knows I can get the job done.”
Ault said a lack of confidence (by Jefferson) cost Jefferson a shot at the regular starting job last year going into the season.
“He should have been the starter last year,” Ault said. “He was the best running back we had that spring (2011). But he lost confidence.”
“The main thing worked on this (off-season) was bouncing back,” said Jefferson, who scored the game-winning touchdown with 36 seconds to play. “I’ve been known to get down on myself when something happens.”
Jefferson’s teammates wouldn’t let him lost confidence after the two fumbles on Saturday.
“As a quarterback, you just tell him little things just so he wouldn’t get down on himself,” Pack quarterback Cody Fajardo said. “He’s a guy who likes to beat himself up so I just tried to give him some positive encouragement and he had a big game.”
Jefferson was a workhorse against Cal, carrying the ball 34 times, the most carries by a Wolf Pack running back since Lippincott had 36 for 241 yards and two touchdowns on Oct. 20, 2007.
“I’m definitely a little sore,” said Jefferson with a smile on Monday. “But I’ll be OK. That’s the most carries I’ve had in a game since high school. It reminded me of back then when I was the guy who did that every week.”
That’s the goal again.
“To be a true Nevada back you have to be consistent and do it every week,” said Jefferson, who rushed for 2,867 yards and 34 touchdowns on an average of just under 29 carries a game as a senior at El Diamante. “I know I can do it.”
The Mountain West award took Jefferson by surprise.
“It means a lot,” he said. “I didn’t have the game I expected because I made some mistakes. But the award is great. I’m humbled.”