Pack fans finally get the sign that they have been waiting for
For the Nevada Appeal
We have been looking for a sign from above all season long to tell us that this Nevada Wolf Pack football season will be different.
Any indication, any clue at all, if only to reassure us that this season will end the pain and suffering of losing 10 consecutive games to the Boise State Broncos.
Any little sign at all will do.
A cloud in the shape of Chris Ault’s profile. A four-leaf clover mysteriously growing out of the Mackay Stadium rubber and plastic turf. A silver and blue rainbow arching from one Mackay Stadium end zone to the other. A photo of Jeff Tisdel, David Neill and Chris Lemon — the last Pack coach, quarterback and running back to beat Boise State in 1998 — gently floating aimlessly down Virginia Street. Proof that Boise State gave Kellen Moore’s father a Porsche, season tickets to Seattle Seahawks games and a $50 gift card to Starbucks.
Anything. We’re not picky. Any little sign will do.
Well, that sign finally arrived Saturday night at Fresno State.
The Wolf Pack beat a good football team on the road, stunning the Bulldogs, 35-34. The Pack beat a team that had been preparing for this game, this moment for an entire year. The Pack won a game they really had no right winning. The Pack showed that, yes, it could overcome adversity, something Boise tosses in their face like orange and blue confetti every single year.
It was the sign we’ve been waiting for all season.
“To win a game like that on the road, against a good football team in a hostile environment, and to win it the way we won it, says a lot about this football team,” Pack head coach Chris Ault said this week as his team prepared for its final Boise tune-up against New Mexico State on Saturday at Mackay.
The Pack hasn’t had many come-from-behind, adversity-filled victories on the road against a good football team in recent years. Louisiana Tech in 2008 was the last one before Saturday.
This wasn’t just one Colin Kaepernick Heisman pose after another on his way to the end zone. Running back Vai Taua had five Fresno red coats on his back all night. Fresno didn’t simply quit midway through the second quarter like most Western Athletic Conference foes. The Pack defense looked feeble at times and amazing at all the right times.
That’s how they won it. They did a million things wrong and a million and one things right.
“If you want a chance to compete for a championship, you have to win on the road and that’s what we did,” Ault said.
OK, it wasn’t a Chris Ault cloud wafting over Fresno’s football field. It wasn’t a poetic sign from above. This was much better. Clouds, after all, don’t beat Boise.
“We had to be mentally tough, physically tough and we had to keep fighting,” Kaepernick said. “In games like that you have to keep battling and eventually things will fall your way.”
We originally thought the sign that this year will indeed be different arrived on a magical September evening at Mackay Stadium earlier this year. That’s when the Pack whipped the snooty California Golden Bears of the we’re-doing-you-a-favor-by-finally-playing-you-at-your-place Pac-10 Conference. We thought that was all the sign we needed that this Pack team was more special than the good-but-not-great Pack teams of recent vintage.
But that victory over the California Fool’s Golden Bears, while majestic, impressive and certainly unforgettable, was really nothing more than a false sense of security. All that golden ticket got the Pack was a chance to meet some creepy Oompa Loompas and a bellyache from eating too many Wonka bars.
And that bellyache stuck around for a long time.
It forced the Pack to stagger and sleepwalk through victories over mediocre-to-bad BYU, UNLV, San Jose State and Utah State teams. And it left them too bloated to win at the ultimate adventure in Wonkaland in Hawaii.
Yes, the Pack destroyed Idaho and looked good doing it. Very good. But been there, done that, folks. Crushing bad WAC teams means nothing when it comes to beating Boise. Remember last year’s three consecutive ego-boosters against San Jose, Fresno and New Mexico State? Those victories were the Pack’s version of getting fat and happy on Willy Wonka’s Everlasting Gobstoppers. Idaho, for all we knew, was going to be the same thing.
That’s because nothing that happened since the Cal game suggested that the Pack’s seemingly everlasting losing streak to Boise would end before Chris Ault’s grandchildren had grandchildren of their own.
Until Saturday night.
This was a game that the Wolf Pack most assuredly would have lost last year, the year before that and, well, every other year since Boise discovered football in 1999.
Fresno, a team that just might be every bit as good as Cal, was waiting for the Pack.
“That game was their season,” Ault said. “They said they had our game circled on their calendar all year. We saw their best effort of the year.”
Cal looked like it didn’t even know what stadium it was in back in September. They looked like the only film they watched that involved a pistol and Nevada was an old western with John Wayne.
Fresno State, though, wanted the Wolf Pack in the worst way. Fresno coach Pat Hill admitted this week that he changed his team’s practice routine this season in an effort to stop Ault’s Pistol offense. The Pack, after all, had destroyed Hill’s Bulldogs the past two years and they did it with a kid (Turlock’s Kaepernick) that should have been wearing Fresno red.
And, don’t forget, this game was not only about sending a message to future recruits but also for next season when Fresno and Nevada will battle it out for a WAC title with Boise off winning the Mountain West Conference.
It was, without question, the biggest game not involving Boise State this season in the WAC. And Fresno knew it. That’s why the Bulldogs were prepared to ambush the Wolf Pack in much the same way the Pack ambushed Cal in September.
The difference is the Pack stole the victory at Fresno. That difference is why this year could be the year Wolf Pack fans have been yearning for since 1998.
Ault, who never likes to put any added significance on any one victory or loss, especially in the middle of a season, admitted his football team took a huge character-building step in Fresno.
“That’s what we told the kids in the locker room after the game,” Ault said. “We told them, ‘The difference between this game and Hawaii (a 27-21 perfect-season ruining loss) is you found a way to win in the fourth quarter.”
That’s how you beat Boise. Boise is not Idaho or San Jose State. You don’t beat Boise State in the first quarter. You don’t beat Boise by being bored, bloated, fat and happy. You don’t beat Boise without first beating a bushel full of adversity.
You beat Boise like you beat Fresno on Saturday. With heart, determination, character and three hours of frustration and anger clinging to your back.
“Until you do it, you never know if you can,” Ault said. “There comes a time when you have to stop talking about it and just go out and do it.”
That time arrived last Saturday.