Nevada Wolf Pack tops Oregon State, 37-35
By Joe Santoro For the Nevada Appeal
The football gods smiled upon the Nevada Wolf Pack Saturday night without a moment to spare.
“There are a lot of ways to win a football game and a lot of ways to lose a football game,” Wolf Pack head coach Jay Norvell said after a hold-your-breath 37-35 Nevada victory over the Oregon State Beavers at Mackay Stadium. “We were very, very blessed to be on the right side of this one. We could have just as easily been on the wrong side.”
Oregon State’s Jordan Choukair sent a 34-yard field goal attempt to the wrong side of the left upright as time expired, handing the stunning victory to the Wolf Pack. A crowd of 20,462 watched nervously as the Beavers drove 55 yards in 12 plays in the final 3:25 to set up Choukair’s possible game-winning kick.
“I almost blocked it,” said Wolf Pack defensive back Berdale Robbins. “But after I almost blocked it I didn’t even look up because I just knew he was going to miss.”
The victory was the first for the Wolf Pack (now 2-1) over a team from a Power Five Conference since it beat Washington State, also from the Pac-12, 24-13 on Sept. 5, 2014.
“We wanted to give our seniors a Power Five win before they go out,” Wolf Pack freshman running back Tao Taua said.
Norvell, whose Wolf Pack didn’t win its second game last year until Week 10, has now won four of his last six games dating back to last season after starting out 1-8.
“That one was like four hours of root canal,” said Norvell of the last-second victory over Oregon State.
The Wolf Pack started as if the game was going to be a four-hour stroll in the park. The Pack jumped out to a commanding 30-7 lead with just over 10 minutes to play in the second quarter, shredding the Beavers defense almost at-will. The Beavers, now 1-2 and losers of 21 consecutive road games, proceeded to dominate the final 40 minutes of the game, outscoring the Pack, 28-7, and nearly pulling off a shocking walk-off victory.
“Every game has moments when you don’t do what you are supposed to do” Norvell said.
Those moments seemed to pile up on the Wolf Pack in the fourth quarter as Oregon State cut the Pack lead to just two points on two separate occasions. A 1-yard touchdown run by Jermar Jefferson sliced the Pack lead to 30-28 with 11:40 to go and another 1-yard scoring run by Kase Rogers with 4:40 left made it 37-35.
“They key is you just have to keep playing,” Norvell said.
And hope someone misses a field goal.
“That’s the way the ball bounces sometimes,” Norvell said.
Oregon State, which has now lost 12 of its last 13 games and has lost 37 of its last 42 games against Division I-A (Football Bowl Subdivision) teams since the middle of the 2014 season, out-gained the Wolf Pack 540-357 and had more first downs, 28-17. The Beavers also controlled the ball for 34:47, of which 29:53 came over the final three quarters. The Pack had the ball for just 15:07 over the final three quarters.
“I couldn’t tell you one stat from this game and I really don’t care,” Norvell said. “All I care about is the score.”
The score was fairly one-sided in the first 20 minutes as the Pack built its 23-point lead. Taua scored on a 5-yard run to finish off the game’s opening drive as the Pack covered 75 yards in just eight plays and three minutes.
Oregon State quarterback Conor Blount, though, came right back with a 5-yard scoring pass to Isaiah Hodgins to cap off the Beavers’ first drive to tie the game at 7-7. The Pack, though, scored the next 23 points on a pair of Ty Gangi touchdown passes, a 26-yard field goal by Ramiz Ahmed and a 48-yard fumble return for a touchdown by linebacker Malik Reed.
Reed’s play gave the Pack its 30-7 lead with 10:18 to go in the second quarter and was the first fumble recovery of his four-year Pack career. The third-down play from the Wolf Pack 35-yard line began with Pack safety Asauni Rufus blitzing and sacking Blount and causing the fumble. Reed picked it up at the Oregon State 48 and did the rest.
“We want to be more disruptive defensively,” Norvell said.
The Wolf Pack also intercepted a pair of Oregon State passes. Cornerback Jomon Dotson picked off a Blount pass at the Oregon State 41-yard line late in the first quarter and returned it 15 yards to the 26. The play helped set up Gangi’s 24-yard touchdown pass to McLane Mannix three plays later as the Pack took a 16-7 lead on the final play of the first quarter.
Robbins got the Pack’s second interception, stepping in front of a Jake Luton pass at the Wolf Pack 8-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
“All those turnovers were huge for us,” Norvell said. “And they will be a big part of our success moving forward.”
Gangi started the game on fire, completing nine of his first 11 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns. His 11th pass of the game was a 9-yard flip to running back Jaxson Kincaid for a touchdown that gave the Pack a 23-7 lead with 12:33 to go in the second quarter. The pass covered about 12 inches as Kincaide ran in front of Gangi to pluck the ball out of the air.
Gangi, though, then struggled the rest of the game as the offense stalled. The senior quarterback completed just eight of his final 24 passes for 53 yards and an interception. He finished with 195 yards on 17-of-35 passing.
“We didn’t execute as well in the second half,” Norvell said. “I was disappointed we couldn’t add to that lead (30-7).”
The Beavers made a quarterback change two, going from from Blount to Luton and back to Blount. Blount was 12-of-20 for 175 yards and a touchdown but it was Luton that got the Beavers back in the game. The 6-foot-7 senior led the Beavers to three touchdowns, cutting the Pack lead to just 30-28 early in the fourth quarter. Luton, who completed 23-of-35 passes for 284 yards, connected with Hodgins for his lone touchdown pass from three yards out, pulling the Beavers to within 30-21.
Luton, though, hurt his ankle in the fourth quarter as Blount returned to the field for the final nine minutes. His first pass when he returned in the fourth quarter went for 40 yards to wide receiver Timmy Hernandez down to the Wolf Pack 31. The drive stalled and came up empty when Choukair, who made three-of-five field goal attempts over the Beavers’ first two games, missed a 49-yard field goal to the left with just over eight minutes to play.
The Beavers’ John McCartan, though, picked off a Gangi pass at the Oregon State 30-yard line on the Pack’s next drive. McCartan returned it 30 yards to the Wolf Pack 40. It took Blount just four plays to cover the 40 yards as Rogers scored from a yard out to cut the Pack lead to 37-35 with 4:40 to go.
“We could have had a stronger second half,” Robbins said.
“The game became a defensive game in the second half,” Norvell said. “Our defense kept us in the game.”
The football gods then won it in the end for the Pack.