Nevada may go bowling, after all
By STEVE RANSON
RENO – Nevada had a job to do, and the Wolf Pack players responded with one of their most complete games of the season.
The Wolf Pack, which needed to win Saturday to become bowl eligible, whipped Louisiana Tech, 49-10, on a cold, blustery Saturday afternoon at Mackay Stadium in the final Western Athletic Conference football game for both teams.
Coaches and players will not know the fate of any postseason play until bowl invitations are extended to teams this week.
In order to receive a bowl invitation, Nevada (6-6 overall, 4-4 in the WAC) needs to see where conference champs Hawaii plays depending on the final BCS standings.
“We have no control over that,” said Nevada coach Chris Ault. The obligation of this football team was not to go out with a losing record. We’re disappointed with some of the things this year. The attention and focus on detail was beating La. Tech.”
To Nevada’s credit the good arose from the bad after the Wolf Pack suffered a loss last weekend at San Jose State. Nevada’s 27-24 setback to the Spartans put the Pack into a must-win situation against Louisiana Tech (5-7, 4-4), which also needed a win to become bowl eligible.
The Nevada offense responded by churning the Mackay field for 641 yards of offense, while the defense limited the Bulldogs to 55 yards rushing and 173 yards passing.
“My hats off to Nevada,” said first-year La. Tech coach Derek Dooley. “They whipped our tail from start to finish. I didn’t think we handled the conditions very well. When you get behind a team early like that, it’s tough to come back.”
Luke Lippincott ignited the Wolf Pack offense with a five-touchdown performance, the best for any Nevada back since Chance Kretcshmer scored six touchdowns in 2001.
Lippincott, the blue-collar running back from Salinas, Calif., scored three times from the 1-yard line and another on a 3-yard run. He also caught an 11-yard pass from freshman quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
“It feels good,” Lippincott said of his final regular season game. “(This is) the first time I’ve ever done that in my life.”
Lippincott’s performance gave him a total of eight rushing touchdowns in two consecutive games against La. Tech.
• Lippincott’s first touchdown came in the first quarter. Nevada’s defense forced Louisiana Tech to cough the ball up on a pass play, and four plays later, Nevada scored on Lippincott’s 1-yard off right tackle.
Brett Jaekle’s extra point gave the Pack a 7-0 lead.
• With 5:38 remaining before halftime, Nevada put together a four-play drive. Lippincott ran wide left to score from the 1-yard line, and Jaekle’s PAT gave the Pack a 21-0 lead.
Kaepernick mixed the plays, throwing a pass to Mike McCoy (32 yards) and a swing pass to the right side of the line to Lippincott (15 yards).
• With the score 28-3 Lippincott surpassed the 100-yard rushing mark for the eighth time this season on Nevada ‘s second possession in the third quarter. After he broke the century mark, Lippincott took the hand-off for a 3-yard run early in the period to give the Pack its fifth touchdown of the afternoon. Jaekle’s PAT stretched the score to 35-3.
• Lippincott capped another drive of eight plays when he had another 1-yard run for a touchdown. Lippincott set up the score two plays earlier when he caught a 32-yard screen pass to the La. Tech 5.
• Lippincott’s final score came when he snared Kaepernick’s pass on a crossing pattern and ran it into the end zone early in the fourth quarter at 13:27.
Nevada’s other two touchdowns were Kaepernick passes to Kyle Sammons, who caught eight receptions for 199 yards.
After La. Tech’s third series, Chris Keagle shanked a punt which gave Nevada the ball on its 28. Seven plays later, Kaepernick hooked up with Sammons in the end zone for a 16-yard strike. Jaekle’s kick gave the Pack a 14-0 lead.
The key play in the drive was a double reverse. Marko Mitchell circled deep behind the line of scrimmage to receive the ball and raced 47 yards for an apparent touchdown. A holding call, though, brought the ball back to the La. Tech 14. Nevada then lost 2 yards on a running play.
The Pack exploited La. Tech’s secondary on its first possession of the second half when Kaepernick completed his longest pass of his short college career, a 74-yard strike to Sammons on a post pattern. The touchdown atoned for Nevada’s anemic second half last week when the Pack failed to score any points against San Jose State in the upset loss.
Kaepernick exceeded the 400-yard plateau for the first time this season on Saturday as he completed 18 of 29 passes for 404 yards.
“He was very, very accurate with the ball, especially in that wind,” Ault said. “The beauty of Kaep is that he has not thrown interceptions. He’s thrown a few, but he’s protected the ball.”
After the loss at San Jose, Kaepernick said he didn’t take care of business when he had the ball. Saturday’s game against La. Tech told a different story.
“Our offense came out, and the offensive line did a good job again,” Kaepernick said. “It (the wind) wasn’t too bad. Every once in while my hands would get dry, and I couldn’t get a feel for the ball.”
While Nevada executed its game plan effectively, La. Tech struggled.
“Once the game kid of got out of hand, you throw most the game plan out the window,” Dooley said.
La. Tech had a nine-play, 63-yard drive that resulted in a 20-yard field goal from Danny Horwedel with 1:42 left before halftime. The three points were the fewest allowed by the Nevada defense since the Sept. 29 game against UNLV. Until the field goal, La. Tech had gone 102 minutes without scoring a point against Nevada since the last quarter of their 2005 game.
The Bulldogs scored their only touchdown in the third quarter on a kickoff return when Phillip Livas split the Nevada coverage for a 78-yard score with 2:50 remaining in the period. The PAT narrowed the lead to 42-10.