Nevada seniors want to go out a winner
For the Nevada Appeal
RENO – This time it’s personal.
The Nevada Wolf Pack football team’s seniors do not plan on walking out of Mackay Stadium a loser in their final game at the stadium up on north Virginia Street.
“It’s the number one thing on my mind,” senior defensive tackle Brett Roy said. “I don’t want to look back the rest of my life and see a loss right there. I won my senior day in high school and I want to win my senior day in college.”
The Wolf Pack (6-5 overall, 4-2 in the Western Athletic Conference) will take on the Idaho Vandals today (1:07 p.m. kickoff) without a WAC championship on the line. Those dreams vanished because of losses at home to Louisiana Tech (24-20) two weeks ago and at Utah State (21-17) last week.
“It’s the last time the seniors will ever play in Mackay,” senior quarterback Tyler Lantrip said. “It means a lot. It’s the last time we’re going to get to make a statement in this stadium.”
Today’s final regular season game against the Vandals (2-9, 1-5) will be the first game the Pack has played at Mackay Stadium after being eliminated from the WAC title chase since 2008.
“It’s the accumulation of everything I’ve done here at Nevada,” Roy said. “It’s going to be a very emotional day. This season is not ending the way we wanted it to but I’m still going to do everything I can to win this game.”
The Wolf Pack has posted a 19-5 record at Mackay (11-1 the last two years) since many of these 19 seniors began their active Pack careers in 2008.
“It’s going to be four years of hard work and dedication coming together at Mackay,” senior cornerback Isaiah Frey said.
Last year’s senior day – a 34-31 overtime victory over Boise State – was arguably the most special day in Wolf Pack football history. Mackay Stadium was packed with 30,712 fans, the possibility of a WAC title was in the air and the excitement and interest surrounding the football program was never higher in its 100-plus-year history.
This year, thanks to the losses to Louisiana Tech and Utah State, the atmosphere surrounding the game is a bit different.
“What has happened hurts,” senior wide receiver Rishard Matthews said. “But I’m not holding my head down. Our seniors still want to go out with a win.”
As far as the seniors are concerned, the goal today will be the same as it was on senior day a year ago against Boise State.
“The seniors have a lot of legacy to leave behind,” Lantrip said. “We’re going to go out there pumped up.”
These seniors, after all, were part of the 16-game winning streak at Mackay Stadium which ended with the loss to Louisiana Tech. As juniors most of them played major roles in last year’s 13-1 dream season.
The last thing they want to do is leave the program with losses in their last two games at home. The last senior class to do that was in 1999.
“This is a special day for the seniors,” said head coach Chris Ault, who is 21-5 on senior day as a head coach (0-1 as a player). “It’s another one of those earmark games.”
No matter what happens today, the Wolf Pack seniors will likely get a chance to play another game. The Pack has qualified for a bowl game and is seemingly headed to either the Hawaii Bowl (if Hawaii loses to BYU on Saturday) or the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco.
“That’s the last thing we’re worried about right now,” Ault said.
For Idaho, though, this will definitely be the final game for its two dozen or so seniors.
“This is our last chance,” Vandals coach Robb Akey told his team this week. “Let’s embrace every minute of this week. Let’s have a great time doing it. In the grand scheme of things you only get to play so many games in your life.”
In other words, the Vandals are treating Saturday like its their bowl game.
Idaho is last in the eight-team WAC in scoring (21.8 points a game), total offense (301.1 yards), pass defense (270.7 yards), pass efficiency rating (102.6), red zone offense (73.3%), sacks (16), first downs (15.8 a game) and third-down success rate (28.4 %).
The Wolf Pack has won six games in a row against Idaho and eight of its last nine. Nevada has averaged 54 points a game in those eight wins (67 in the last two). The Pack had 844 total yards and scored nine touchdowns in last year’s 63-17 win at Idaho. The Pack had the ball for 24:14 of the 30 minutes in the first and fourth quarters combined. Three Pack players (Lampford Mark, Vai Taua and Mike Ball ) went over 100 yards rushing. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick passed for 320 yards and five touchdowns. Matthews caught seven passes for 151 yards. Lantrip even tossed a touchdown pass.
Ault, though, went out of his way this week to remind his slumping team that the magic of Senior Day will not guarantee a Pack victory today.
“We talked about where we are and where we put ourselves,” Ault said.
Ault wasn’t in a mood to heap praise on his seniors this week after leaving a WAC title on the table by losing to Louisiana Tech and Utah State. When asked to reflect on this group of seniors he was reminded that they beat UNLV all four of their seasons.
“They should have beaten Louisiana Tech all four years,” Ault said after hesitating. “They should have beaten Utah State all four years.”
“It’s just kind of dismal,” Roy said. “We all understand and know the gravity of what’s been lost.”
This is the first season the Pack has lost consecutive conference games since 2007.
“We definitely didn’t show the team we know we are, what we’ve been made for,” said Roy. “It was completely out of character. It’s sheer disappointment.”
The losses to Louisiana Tech and Utah State have left this team a bit stunned.
“We had so much momentum coming into those games,” Roy said. “It’s definitely a shock to us. We didn’t expect it nor did we think it could happen.”
Roy, though, said all of the focus is now on Idaho and for the seniors to bid a fond farewell to Mackay Stadium.
“We still have our pride,” he said. “We’re still Nevada football. We owe it to our fans, to ourselves, to these seniors to go out and win at home.”