Have you read this script before?
Big-game atmosphere. A lot riding on the line for Nevada. The Wolf Pack races to a lead, before completely melting down.
Same story, same old ending.
It happened against Louisiana Tech in 2011, the New Mexico Bowl in 2012, against UNLV a year ago and now on Saturday, Nov. 22 — like a curse plaguing the post-Colin Kaepernick era of the program.
On a night where Nevada was tasked with playing its best football, it played its worst of the season. The Wolf Pack laid a goose egg, scoring a season-low in points and surrendering the third most points in a game this year, all with a Mountain West Championship game shimmering before them.
Its defense made Fresno State quarterback Brian Burrell — who was benched in favor of redshirt freshmen three weeks earlier — look like a Derek Carr doppelganger, scoring a career-high five touchdowns.
Nevada was gutted up and down the field to the tune of 238 rushing yards, just a week removed from being carved up for 342 yards.
Its offense fumbled the ball three times, was held scoreless after intermission and was tackled in the end zone for a safety.
Special teams was equally worse, missing a 39-yard field goal, shanking an extra point and muffing a punt.
“We stunk in all three phases, a fourth if you count the coaches, and it starts with us,” said Wolf Pack head coach Brian Polian. “We got our butts beat. I’m incredibly disappointed by it.”
All the mistakes led to a 40-20 thrashing that eliminated the Nevada from West Division contention and spoiled the senior night of 15 players.
Wolf Pack players and coaches alike used words like “embarrassed”, “stunk” and “heartbroken” in the post-game conference.
Here’s one word they forget: chokers.
The Bulldogs aren’t a team that’s 20 points better than Nevada, especially inside Mackay Stadium. Fresno State is mediocre at best, losing earlier this year to UNLV and Wyoming, who have a combined 3-11 MW record.
It wasn’t that Nevada was unprepared, either. Polian and players lauded the previous week of practice.
How about immaturity?
“Until we grow up collectively, we’re going to stay average and I don’t want to stay average,” Polian said. “Unfortunately, tonight that’s what we did.”
Yet, the Wolf Pack started ten seniors against Fresno State. I’m not buying that, either.
It all boils down to the Wolf Pack crumbling under the pressure. Whether it was the chrome helmets, the emotion of senior night or the championship game atmosphere — it doesn’t matter. There’s no excuses. Nevada choked.
How many times must Silver and Blue fans endure this rinse and repeat plot? A promising team, inching up the mountain to accomplish something noteworthy — only for the Wolf Pack to squander its opportunity?
Before the game, Nevada coaches, administration and even myself urged fans to brave the cold and support the team. By the end of regulation, there was a thousand or so people left in the stands and for good reason. No game over the past four years was as hard to stomach as Saturday’s.
For all the accomplishments this senior class has racked up over the past five years, a black cloud will forever hang over them as a class that could never win the “big one.”
“The good news is we’re playing for probably the biggest game of the year trying to get that cannon back in Las Vegas and we’re excited about that,” said Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo.
Sure, the casual Wolf Pack fan will agree with Fajardo, but c’mon. Really? Facing a 2-10 team and losers of five straight is the biggest game of the year? I love rivalry games as much as the next guy, but it doesn’t even compare to the lure of a MWC championship game.
There won’t be a bigger game this season than the Fresno State showdown and there won’t be a more disappointing ending, either, Fremont Cannon and bowl game be damned.
Eric Uribe can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Uribe_Eric.