Nevada football beats UNLV
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – Possession Nevada.
Thanks to a 43-yard touchdown pass from Nick Graziano to Kyle Sammons with 27 seconds left in the game, and an ensuing stop by the defense, Nevada retained possession of the prestigious Fremont Cannon with a 27-20 win over in-state rival UNLV before a partisan crowd of 25,278 Saturday afternoon at Mackay Stadium.
The win was the third straight over UNLV, and extended the Wolf Pack’s edge in the yearly series to 18-15.
“Well, it’s still blue, and that’s all it counts,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said. “It was one heck of a game. Both teams played hard all game long. I was pleased with the offensive production in the fourth quarter, scoring twice and taking over the game.
“We were out of sync in the third quarter which was disappointing. The bottom line is with the youth of this team we’ve got to find a way to win and we did.”
Indeed. Nevada, thanks to the work of the offensive line and running backs Luke Lippincott and Brandon Fragger, held the ball for nearly nine minutes in the final quarter, snapping ties of 13-13 and 20-20, respectively.
“It just kills me and it’s very disappointing,” UNLV coach Mike Sanford said. “We’re very frustrated because we had our chances to win. You have to give credit to our rival up north. The problem is we beat ourselves. We had opportunities to win today, but didn’t do it in every phase.”
Nevada scored what was thought to be the game-winner with 3:02 left when Graziano, who completed 20 of 38 for 330 yards and three scores, found tight end Adam Bishop in the left flat. Bishop lunged into the end zone and Brett Jaekle added the extra point for a 20-13 lead with 3:02 left.
The score followed a bad snap from center on a 52-yard field goal attempt by Sergio Aguayo that many thought to be a fake field goal. Holder Casey Flair recovered the high snap and completed a pass for no gain to Ryan Worthen at the Nevada 35.
“That was completely on me,” Sanford said. “It was a communication problem with the snapper. It was a decision between a special punt or field goal. We were going for the field goal.”
On the second play following the aborted field goal, Quinton Pointer was nailed with a 15-yard facemask penalty to give the Pack a first down at the 46. Two carries by Fragger moved the ball to the UNLV 30, and then Lippincott carried three straight times, moving the ball to the 15 and setting up Bishop’s fourth TD catch in the last two games.
A stop on the ensuing possession, and Nevada was home. It wasn’t to be, however.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Travis Dixon facing a fourth-and-9 from his own 36, completed a 15-yard pass to Flair for a first down at the Pack 49. He hooked up with Ryan Wolfe for 13 yards and a first down at the Nevada 30.
“The Northwestern game came into my head,” senior nose tackle Matt Hines said, referring to the Pack’s fourth-quarter letdown leading to a 36-31 defeat.
Nevada started to put more pressure on Dixon, and he threw three straight incomplete passes. Dixon found Wolfe open over the middle on fourth down, and the dangerous wide receiver got to the end zone. Aguayo’s PAT made it 20-20 with 1:02 left.
“You can’t let them do that (convert fourth downs),” Ault said.
“Our team fought back,” Sanford said. “There were really good signs of maturation on our team.”
A minute is a long time in college football, especially when you have three first downs and you start on your own 35. Nevada didn’t waste it.
Graziano hit Lippincott with a 6-yard screen pass for a first down at the Nevada 46. After an incomplete pass, Graziano hooked up with Sammons for 11 yards and a first down at the 43. Then came the game winner, as Sammons roared past a UNLV defender and caught the ball for the score.
“I ran up the sideline and Marko (Mitchell) cleared out the safety which created a 1-on-1 defense for me,” Sammons said. “The coaches made an excellent call. I wasn’t expecting to be that open.”
“It was tough seeing them score, but one minute is plenty of time and getting good field position helped,” Graziano said. “The last play looked just like we drew it up.”
Ault said in his post-game news conference that the coaches upstairs had urged him to call that play earlier in the game.
UNLV drove down to Nevada’s 16 on its final possession before a second-down pass fell incomplete as time expired, and the Pack players celebrated their third straight over UNLV.
“It’s an awesome feeling (to win three straight),” Hines said. “There are a lot of guys that can’t say they went 3-1.”
Through the first three quarters, it was a game of punch and counter-punch, as the teams were tied at 3-all and 10-all as defenses dominated.
The Rebels drove 65 yards on their first drive, and quickly moved the ball into the red zone thanks to a 17-yard pass from Dixon to Flair, and a 22-yard screen pass to Frank Summers (120 yards rushing) that gave UNLV a first down at the Nevada 12.
After a short gain by Summers, the Rebels were hit with a procedure penalty back to the Nevada 15. Two plays failed to net a first down, and Aguayo came on to kick a 22-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
After an exchange of punts, Nevada put together a 65-yard scoring drive that culminated in a career-best 50-yard field goal by Brett Jaekle with 3:50 left.
The key play on the drive was a 56-yard pass from Graziano to tight end Adam Bishop which gave the Pack a first down at the UNLV 24. The 56-yarder was a career-best for Bishop, who caught three balls for 78 yards.
UNLV pounded out one first down, and then was forced to punt the ball away. Brian Pacheco put the ball inside the 10 again, and Nevada was in a hole.
Graziano was stopped for no gain on a rollout to the right, and on second down, Graziano lofted a pass to Mike McCoy who got behind Shane Horton at about the 35 and went the rest of the way untouched to complete the 90-yard play. Jaekle’s PAT made it 10-3.
“I give all the credit to Graz,” McCoy said. “Graz was supposed to go to Kyle, but he read it perfectly.”
UNLV drove from its own 17 to Nevada’s 15, but on a second-and-7 play, Dixon’s pass bounced off the hands of Gerold Rodriguez and into the arms of Nevada’s Michael Samples at the Nevada 5.
UNLV drove 80 yards to tie the game at 10, as Summers scored on a 6-yard run with 5:23 left in the third quarter.
That set the stage for a wild fourth-quarter shootout that saw the teams combine for 27 points.