Nevada Notes: Wolf Pack perfect in 4th quarter at Fresno | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada Notes: Wolf Pack perfect in 4th quarter at Fresno

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal
Nevada running back Toa Taua celebrates with teammates after scoring the winning touchdown against Fresno State during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Fresno, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)
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The Nevada Wolf Pack football team executed perfectly in the fourth quarter Saturday night at Fresno State.

Special teams, defense, offense and coaching all came together as the Wolf Pack flawlessly orchestrated a 35-28 victory over the Bulldogs.

The Wolf Pack offense faced a 4th-and-8 from the Fresno State 38-yard line in a tie game (28-28) with just under 12 minutes to play. Instead of going for a first down or attempting a long field goal, the Pack had quarterback Carson Strong punt the ball 35 yards down to the Fresno State 4-yard line where it was downed.

The Pack, still tied 28-28, also elected to punt on its second drive of the fourth quarter on a 4th-and-9 play from its own 49-yard line with just under two minutes to play. This time punter Quinton Conaway came up big, punting the ball to the Fresno State 3-yard line where it was downed with 1:46 to play.

“We talked about going for it (the first down) but we trusted our defense to get the stop and that we could pin them down in deep,” Strong said.

Fresno State then did its part to help the Pack, tossing three quick incomplete passes and punting the ball from its own 3-yard line, still with more than a minute to play.

Ben Putman then returned the Fresno punt 24 yards down to the Fresno State 25-yard line where the Pack took over with 1:20 to go.

“That was a great return by Ben Putman,” Pack coach Jay Norvell said. “That was huge.”

Putman’s return allowed the Pack to methodically put itself in position to win the game.

“We were already in position to kick a field goal then so we just wanted to be smart with the clock,” Norvell said.

Running back Toa Taua then took a handoff on the first play of the drive and gained 21 yards to the Fresno 4-yard line.

The Pack and Bulldogs then tried to outsmart each other with the clock.

“Fresno just wanted us to score quickly so they would get the ball back and have more time to drive down the field,” Taua said. “And we wanted to run the clock down before we scored and gave them the ball back.”

Fresno State called a timeout after Taua’s 21-yard run with 1:10 to play and did it again after a 1-yard Taua run to the 3-yard line with 1:02 to play.

The Pack then had Taua execute what they call the “surrender” play and the sophomore running back went down deliberately at the line of scrimmage to kill more time off the clock.

“We didn’t want to give (Fresno) much time at the end of the game,” Norvell said.

Fresno State never ran another play from scrimmage as Taua scored from the 3-yard line on the next play with 12 seconds to play. The Pack then kicked off and time ran out on the Bulldogs’ return.

“That’s situational football,” Norvell said. “You have to execute. That shows our kids are prepared to execute and win games and they are trusting their training.”

DOUBS HURT: Norvell said on Monday that the status of wide receiver Romeo Doubs for this Saturday’s game against UNLV is uncertain. The 6-foot-2 sophomore wide receiver suffered a shoulder sprain in the Pack’s win at Fresno State.

“I’m not sure where he’ll be (physically) this week,” Norvell said. “I don’t know if he’ll be available (against UNLV). We sure hope he is.”

Doubs has caught 44 passes this season for 649 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games. He has caught 34 passes for 566 yards and four scores in his last six games.

PACK GETS TRICKY: Wolf Pack punter Quinton Conaway said practice paid off against Fresno State.

“We practice a fake every week,” the senior punter said. “But what are the odds that we’d actually use it in the game? But there was a lot of talk this week about it.”

Conaway took off on a 17-yard run early in the second quarter on a 4th-and-8 play from the Wolf Pack 28-yard line. The drive, though, ended in a lost fumble by Doubs at the Fresno State 44-yard line a few plays later.

“When we called it, I just went, ‘Here we go, baby. Let’s go,’” Conaway said. “It was pretty cool to run one successfully. I certainly have no shot to convince the coaches to put in a pass play for me. But I can run a little bit. Now the world knows.”

Conaway has also expanded his duties recently to become the Pack’s holder on field goals. He took over after regular holder Kaleb Fossum suffered an injury a couple weeks ago.

“I love holding,” Conaway said. “I was a kicker before I started punting so I kind of know how kickers like the hold to be perfect.”

Conaway said he has probably held for 15,000 kicks in practice over the years so holding is not new to him.

“The most important thing is catching the ball,” Conaway said. “Then you hit the spot and then you spin the laces.”

SEWELL GLAD HE STAYED: Linebacker Gabriel Sewell, one of 18 Wolf Pack seniors who will be playing the final game of their careers at Mackay Stadium on Saturday, put his name in the transfer portal last spring and looked to leave the program.

“It was kind of a spur of the moment thing,” said Sewell, who has 48 tackles this season, 5.5 for a loss. “I was kind of in a dark place because my brother Nephi just left.”

Nephi Sewell, a Wolf Pack defensive back in 2017 and 2018, transferred from Nevada to Utah after the 2018 season.

“It was always a dream of mine to play in college with my brothers,” Gabriel Sewell said. “So I was kind of mad when Nephi left.”

Penei Sewell, another Sewell brother, is currently a sophomore offensive lineman at Oregon.

ANOTHER TAUA BEATS FRESNO STATE: Pack sophomore running back Toa Taua ran for 135 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries in the Pack win at Fresno State. His 3-yard touchdown run with 12 seconds left won the game.

Toa, though, isn’t the first Taua brother to beat the Bulldogs. Taua’s brother, Vai, currently the Pack’s running backs coach, enjoyed tremendous success against Fresno State during his Wolf Pack career (2007-10).

Vai carried the ball 66 times against Fresno State in three games (2008-10) for 531 yards and six touchdowns. He also beat Fresno with a late touchdown, scoring on a 24-yard burst up the middle with 4:51 to play at the Pack won at Fresno 35-34 in 2010.

Toa has now played two games against Fresno with 161 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries.

Both Taua brothers came to Nevada from Lompoc, Calif., though Vai went to Cabrillo High and Toa went to Lompoc High.

“I remember being a senior in high school (2017) and driving up to Fresno to watch the Pack play after one of my high school games,” said Toa, who saw the Pack lose 41-21 to Fresno that day in 2017. “They (Fresno State) had a great team. So, to be able to come out victorious (this past Saturday), is just great for us.”