NEVADA: Fajardo wins game, job for Pack | NevadaAppeal.com

NEVADA: Fajardo wins game, job for Pack

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

RENO – Cody Fajardo lost a tooth and gained a starting job Saturday afternoon at Mackay Stadium.

“I guess I might have to take up hockey now,” said Fajardo, flashing a smile that was minus one tooth after the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 49-7 victory over the New Mexico Lobos in front of a homecoming crowd of 15,369.

Fajardo completed 20-of-25 passes for 203 yards and also rushed for 86 yards and two touchdowns in just his second college start. After the game Wolf Pack head coach Chris Ault, who has been keeping the identity of his starting quarterback a mystery in recent weeks, didn’t hesitate to announce his starter moving forward.

“Cody is the starter,” Ault said.

Fajardo had more trouble keeping all of his teeth in his mouth than he did trying to solve the Lobos’ defense.

“I wasn’t wearing a mouthpiece and the guy just hit me and it fell out,” said Fajardo, who had the missing tooth in his pocket after the game. “I might have to frame it or carry it with me as a little (good) luck thing.”

Fajardo, who struggled in his first Wolf Pack start a week ago against UNLV, didn’t need any good luck against New Mexico. He led the offense to three first-half touchdowns as the Pack led comfortably 28-0 at halftime.

“That was a good confidence game for me,” said Fajardo, who built a 42-0 lead after three quarters before being relieved by Tyler Lantrip. “I needed that.”

Fajardo completed his first 10 passes and 14 of his first 15 as the Wolf Pack dominated the Lobos.

“Cody was pretty consistent,” Ault said. “He did a nice job of managing the game. It was his best job this year.”

Fajardo found Stefphon Jefferson for seven yards and Aaron Bradley for five and 11 yards on the Pack’s first scoring drive in the first quarter. Lampford Mark scored the first of his three rushing touchdowns from a yard out for the 7-0 Pack lead.

Fajardo then connected with Rishard Matthews for seven yards and Kolby Arendse for 14 on the second scoring drive.

It was on the pass to Arendse, though, that Fajardo lost his tooth and had to leave the game briefly for two plays. Lantrip took over and actually got the Pack in the end zone as Jefferson carried the ball twice, for 15 yards, including the 11-yard touchdown.

“Our passing game today was designed to move the ball with (short) completions,” Ault said.

It was also designed to build Fajardo’s confidence. A week ago against UNLV in a 37-0 victory Fajardo was intercepted twice and had to be relieved by Lantrip for more than half the game.

“This game helped me calm down and after that I kind of settled in and felt pretty good,” Fajardo said. “The first couple series of every game you’re going to be a little nervous. But after that I just went out and played my game.”

Fajardo’s teammates also sensed a more relaxed and confident Fajardo on Saturday.

“Cody was solid,” said Mark whose career-high three scoring runs came from 1, 4 and 9 yards out. “The more snaps he gets the more comfortable he’ll become.”

Fajardo gave the Pack a 28-0 lead late in the second quarter on a 2-yard touchdown run after a pair of 17-yard runs by Jefferson set up the score. Jefferson finished with 108 yards in his second college start.

Fajardo then did most of the work on a 14-play, 69-yard scoring drive as the Pack took a 42-0 lead in the third quarter. He carried the ball five times for 29 yards — including the 4-yard touchdown run — and completed 3-of-5 passes for 18 yards on the drive.

The freshman was all smiles to hear that Ault immediately ended all of the quarterback speculation this week by naming him the starter after the game.

“For him to say that gives me a lot of confidence,” Fajardo said.

Fajardo, though, is aware that he has to keep earning his coach’s confidence.

“I know that any day I can lose that starting spot,” Fajardo said. “I know I have to keep working and keep focused.”

The Pack, now 3-3 on the year. didn’t have any problems staying focused against the Lobos, a team that has now lost 32 of its last 34 games (0-6 this year).

“We were well aware of how much that team has been struggling,” Ault said. “That’s why the whole idea for us in this game was to stay focused on ourselves and do what we had to do.”

“Any team can be beaten on any given day,” said cornerback Khalid Wooten, who forced two fumbles and had an interception. “It doesn’t matter what their record is.”

The Pack defense came within a meaningless New Mexico touchdown of its first back-to-back shutouts since the 2006 season.

“We really wanted that shutout,” said linebacker James-Michael Johnson, who led the Pack with nine tackles. “After the Boise game, we want to shut everybody out the rest of the season.”

The Wolf Pack held New Mexico to 257 yards after holding UNLV to just 110 a week ago. The Pack defense even put some points on the board against New Mexico when Marlon Johnson scooped up a New Mexico fumble (forced by Wooten) and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead late in the first quarter.

“We did what we did last week,” said Wooten. “We have all the confidence in the world right now. If we keep doing what we’ve been doing the last two weeks there’s no reason we can’t go out and win another (Western Athletic Conference) championship and a bowl game.”