Nevada Wolf Pack tops Hawaii for Norvell’s first win as head coach
Special to the Appeal
The Jay Norvell era finally has its first victory.
“I absolutely thought we’d have it before now,” said Norvell, whose Wolf Pack broke a five-game losing streak to start the season with a convincing 35-21 victory over the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at Mackay Stadium on Saturday night. “It’s kind of surreal right now. But it’s very satisfying.”
A crowd of 16,566 saw Wolf Pack quarterback Ty Gangi pass for 278 yards and four touchdowns and also run for a score as the Wolf Pack scored 28 of the game’s final 35 points. The Wolf Pack, now 1-1 in the Mountain West, has now won eight of nine games against Hawaii in northern Nevada during the 97-year-old rivalry.
“I think our kids will gain some confidence from this performance,” Norvell said. “It’s always good to win. They (Pack players) needed to be rewarded for their hard work.”
Hawaii has now lost four games in a row to fall to 2-4 overall and 0-3 in the Mountain West.
“Offensively we’re not putting the ball in the end zone enough to win football games right now,”said Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich, the Pack’s offensive coordinator from 2012-15. “But lot of credit goes to Nevada. He had his guys ready to play and we didn’t. They had a nice plan. “
The victory was Gangi’s first as a starter since he helped beat UNLV in the final game of last season. The junior, who began the season as the starter, lost the job in Week 3 and regained it in Week 5, turned in one of the most efficient and productive performances by a Wolf Pack quarterback in recent years. The 6-foot-2 Gangi completed 25-of-32 passes as the Wolf Pack’s Air Raid offense, which struggled in the first five games to find any efficiency and consistency, finally paid dividends. Gangi connected with wide receivers McLane Mannix (7 yards) and Wyatt Demps (2 and 32 yards) and running back Kelton Moore (22 yards) for his touchdown passes and also scored himself on a 17-yard run.
“You saw a quarterback that is really starting to understand how to use the tools of the offense,” Norvell said. “I can’t say enough about Ty Gangi’s performance and his resiliency. He’s been through a lot. And he’s showed a lot of character and class the whole way through.”
Moore also finished with 216 yards rushing on 19 carries.
“Kelton really stepped up,” Norvell said. “That was a huge performance. Kelton was fabulous.”
The Wolf Pack took control of the game beginning with a bizarre final two minutes of the first half. The Hawaii offense and defense seemed to suffer through a total physical and mental meltdown over the final two minutes of the second quarter to give the Wolf Pack a 21-14 halftime lead.
The Rainbow Warriors, facing a 3rd-and-four at their own 31-yard line with the game tied at 14-14 with1:58 to play in the half, proceeded to commit three penalties on the next two plays. A personal foul on left tackle Dejon Allen wiped out a first-down pass to Ammon Barker and a holding penalty on Allen on the next play wiped out an 84-yard touchdown run by Diocemy Saint Juste. Right tackle Chris Posa was then called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when he learned that the holding call on Allen took Saint Juste’s touchdown off the board.
The Rainbow Warriors, who had to punt the ball away to the Pack, weren’t finished making mistakes in the first half. Hawaii’s Penei Pavihi was called for a late hit and targeting on the Wolf Pack’s Vosean Crumbie on the Pack’s punt return, giving the Pack the ball at the Nevada 49-yard line with 44 seconds to play.
Gangi took it from there, completing three consecutive passes to three different receivers (Moore for three yards, Demps for five and Trevion Armstrong for 37) to give the Pack a first-and-goal at the 6.
The touchdown, giving the Wolf Pack its first lead since it led 20-17 in the fourth quarter of the season opener at Northwestern, came on a 2-yard pass from Gangi to Demps on a slant on the right side. The touchdown was set up by the fifth Hawaii penalty in the final two minutes, a pass interference call against cornerback Eugene Ford, who was trying to cover Demps on another slant.
“I was real proud of the drive at the end of the half,” Norvell said.
Hawaii, which has now lost four games in a row, opened the scoring on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Dru Brown to John Ursua. Saint Juste opened the 80-yard scoring drive with a 22-yard run on the first play and a 17-yarder on the third play. Ryan Tuiasoa also had a 17-yard run on the drive as Hawaii picked up 63 of the 80 yards on the drive on the ground.
The Wolf Pack, which didn’t score the past two weeks until they trailed by 45 (at Washington State) and 31 points (at Fresno State), answered quickly against Hawaii. Mannix hauled in a 7-yard pass from Gangi with 2:30 to play in the first quarter to tie the game at 7-7. The touchdown was set up by a 66-yard run up the middle of the Rainbow Warriors defense by Moore down to the Hawaii 14-yard line.
The Wolf Pack had a chance to take the lead midway through the second quarter but holder Quinton Conaway dropped a snap and tossed a wild incomplete pass on what started as a 33-yard field goal attempt by Spencer Petit. Petit would also have a 42-yard field goal attempt blocked in the third quarter.
Hawaii then marched 84 yards on eight plays on the next drive to take a 14-7 lead with 3:55 to go in the half. Brown found John Ursua for gains of 33 and 19 yards on the drive. Brown then connected with tight end Kade Greeley for a 42-yard touchdown for the lead. Greeley, a 6-foot-6 freshman, caught the ball at about the 23-yard line down the left sideline, wheeled around Pack defensive back Nephi Sewell and then outraced the Pack defense to the end zone.
The Wolf Pack, though, once again answered quickly. And, again, it was a big run by Moore that kick started the drive. Moore burst up the middle of the Rainbow Warriors for 43 yards down to the Hawaii 32-yard line. Gangi found Daiyan Henley for a 13-yard gain through the air and then did the honors himself, scoring on a 17-yard run to tie the game at 14-14 with 2:32 to go before the half.
Gangi had his best half of the season in the first half, completing 15-of-16 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 28 yards and a touchdown on three carries. Hawaii’s Brown also enjoyed an efficient first half, completing 12-of-16 passes for 168 yards and two scores. Saint Juste rushed for 88 yards on 14 carries in the opening half.
The Wolf Pack, though, also ran for 154 yards (Moore had 111 on just three carries) and finished the half with 333 total yards for the team’s best offensive half of the season. The Wolf Pack piled up those 300-plus yards and 21 points despite possessing the ball for just 10:56.
The Wolf Pack extended its lead to 28-14 on a 22-yard pass from Gangi to Moore with 1:56 to go in the third quarter. Moore lined up just to the left of Gangi on the 4th-and-6 call and pulled in Gangi’s short pass at about the 23-yard line. The 5-foot-10 sophomore then turned around and had an open path to the end zone.
The touchdown was set up by a pass from wide receiver Andrew Celis to Demps for 20 yards down to the Hawaii 26-yard line. Gangi handed off to Moore to start the play. Moore then headed to his left and handed off to Celis who rolled to the right before finding Demps.
The two-touchdown lead, though, didn’t last long. Saint Juste exploded through the Pack defense on Hawaii’s very first play after Moore’s score for a 75-yard touchdown run. Saint Juste, who wasn’t touched on the run, covered the 75 yards in just 11 seconds as the Rainbow Warriors cut the Pack lead to 28-21 with 1:45 to go in the third quarter.
Saint Juste finished with 241 yards on 25 carries. Brown was 18-of-27 for 229 yards.
But the Wolf Pack defense, which sacked Brown four times, came to the rescue early in the fourth quarter.
Saint Juste finished with 241 yards on 25 carries. Brown was 18-of-27 for 229 yards.
Hawaii’s Rojesterman Farris picked off a Gangi pass on the right sideline, giving the Rainbow Warriors the ball at their own 22. Saint Juste then picked up eight and 13 yards on a pair of runs to push the ball to the 43. Two plays later, though, Wolf Pack defensive end Malik Reed sacked Brown, forcing a fumble where it was recovered by linebacker Gabe Sewell at the Hawaii 36.
Gangi gave the Pack a 35-21 lead four plays later on a 32-yard pass lofted to Demps down the right sideline over Hawaii safety Trayvon Henderson.
“This was a total team win,” Norvell said. “The offense and defense played off each other and helped each other.”
The Wolf Pack didn’t put the game away until a Brown pass from the 2-yard line fell incomplete in the end zone on fourth down with 2:24 to go.
The Wolf Pack heads back out on the road next Saturday to play Colorado State before returning to Mackay Stadium on Oct. 20 against Air Force.
“We have a lot of tough opponents on our schedule the rest of the way,” Norvell said. “But this is a sign of what we can do.”