Wolf Pack signal caller Cody Fajardo (17) prays quietly before the game against Colorado State on Saturday, Oct. 11. Fajardo failed to complete a 24-point comeback after throwing an interception in the end zone, continuing his career-long struggles in crunch time.

by Eric Uribe

No Wolf Pack game is burned in my retina more than Nevada’s 31-24 triumph over California in 2012. Not because it was the first time I sat in the press box. Not because a sellout crowd of 63,186 christened a $321 million facelift of Memorial Stadium. Not because it’s one of the Wolf Pack’s six all-time wins against a Bowl Championship Series team.

But because of the ice the Wolf Pack had in its veins that day. Entering the game as double-digit underdogs, Nevada had three minutes and change to break a 24-24 deadlock. Then-sophomore quarterback Cody Fajardo dialed up a masterful nine-play, 61-yard drive to win the game. During the drive, Fajardo completed four-of-four throws for 52 yards — including two crucial third-down conversions.

I remember thinking ,“Fajardo is Kobe Bryant-adjacent clutch. The Wolf Pack is going to win a lot of games down the stretch for years to come with him.”

I was wrong. Dead wrong. Since then, Fajardo has engineered just one game-winning drive — in a 45-42 victory over Air Force last season. His career is dotted with not-so-heroic drives with the game on the line: The 2011 Hawaii Bowl against Southern Miss, losing the Fremont Cannon to UNLV a year ago, Boise State last week and now, Saturday’s 31-24 heartbreaker to Colorado State. Needing just 10 yards for a score and to complete a 28-point comeback against the Rams, Fajardo instead lobbed a game-sealing interception in the end zone. Another stomach-punching loss, another failed chance at tying or winning the game during crunch time with Nevada ball. All three of Nevada’s losses this season have followed suit.

The most frustrating part? Fajardo can’t pin where his late-game struggles stem from.

“I honestly don’t know why,” he said in the postgame news conference following Saturday’s defeat. “Throughout my career it’s seemed that way. I don’t have that many answers. I guess I’ll tell coach [Brian]Polian to run more two-minute drills during practice and get more reps at it. Obviously, every quarterback dreams to have the ball in their hand with the game on the line. I’ve had a lot of opportunities, but I just haven’t been too successful at it.”

He needs to find out why. Nevada’s season rides on it. Fajardo’s legacy does, too. There’s no bigger measuring stick for a quarterback than the do-or-die two-minute drill. How you perform under it is what separates the elite signal callers from the merely good. And what does that say about Fajardo when he only has two game-winning drives to his name in 36 career starts? I’m on record saying Fajardo is the best quarterback in the Mountain West Conference. That said he needs to take the next — and final — step and that starts and ends with his crunch-time performance. After the Boise State loss, Wolf Pack offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich instilled Fajardo with a mantra : “Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.”

Well, Nevada has six games before the ink dries. If the Wolf Pack doesn’t win at least three more, there will be no illustrious seventh game in a bowl. Rest assured, Fajardo and Nevada will find itself in the two-minute sink-or-swim scenario again. And those two minutes will define each legacy.

Eric Uribe can be reached at euribe@sagebrush.unr.edu.