The Nevada Wolf Pack football team traveled to Evanston, Illinois this past Saturday taking on the Northwestern Wildcats in the debut of the Jay Norvell era. For a game that ESPN had Northwestern at a 95.4-win percentage from the beginning, Nevada showed off its grit in a 31-20 loss.
The first quarter featured a feeling out process for both team’s offenses. The first possession was handled by Northwestern, Nevada forced a three-and-out. The Pack got the ball via punt but couldn’t muster up a single yard of offense and punted the ball back to the Wildcats. Once the Wildcats received the ball their offense stalled again, actually losing three yards on three plays, but Northwestern’s special teams play came into effect at the perfect time. After receiving the punt, Pack player Kaleb Possum managed to get to the Nevada 43 before fumbling the ball and giving Northwestern another possession.
With momentum swinging in the Wildcats’ favor, the opportune time to score a touchdown presented itself. Northwestern capped off its five-play, 43-yard drive with a 33-yard touchdown from Wildcat QB Clayton Thorson to Macan Wilson.
However, Northwestern’s lead lasted longer than a piece of meat in a wolf den, as Nevada came right back with a score of its own. With Pack running back Jaxson Kincaid ripping off a huge 31-yard run to put Nevada 11 yards from pay dirt, Nevada QB Ty Gangi tossed a touchdown pass to Wyatt Demps to knot the game up at seven with 5:31 left in the first.
Both teams failed to put any more points on the board in the first quarter keeping the game at seven all heading into quarter two. The first five minutes of the second featured an eight-play drive that stalled out for the Wolf Pack, followed by a three-and-out from its Northwestern foe. After the Wildcats’ punt, Nevada made quick work of Northwestern’s defense, charging 51-yards in just 55 seconds, with Gangi completing a pass to McLane Mannix for a 41-yard TD.
The Wildcats’ next possession looked fairly promising until a fumble forced by Pack defensive back Asauni Rufus stunted the Wildcats’ momentum and they finally stalled out after a seven-minute, 14-play drive.
The Pack used this to its advantage as it made its way down the field with some heavy contribution coming from Gangi via air, as Mannix, Fossum and Brandon Scott made some big plays to help get Nevada a field goal to close out the half. The pack was up 17-7 going into the second half.
The Wildcats adjusted well going in the second half, as Nevada played well on the offensive side of the ball, but couldn’t find the end zone. The Wildcats put together a strong 2-and-a-half-minute drive to bring the score to 17-10 with 12 minutes left in the third. The Wildcats then forced Nevada to punt, following up its previous score with a 70-yard touchdown drive, capped off by a catch by Wildcat Riley Lees, tying the game at 17.
Just when it looked as if Nevada was going to punch the ball in for its first points of the second half, Pack QB Gangi threw a costly interception just 2 yards from the Northwestern end zone. Even with this unfortunate turn of events, the Pack defense took the ball back just three plays later on an interception by Elijah Moody to set Nevada up with picture-perfect field position at the Wildcat’s 17-yard line. Even with just 17 yards to go, Nevada failed to convert this drive into a touchdown, settling for a 33-yard field goal from place kicker Spencer Petit.
The Wildcats’ next drive featured them one-upping Nevada with a 75-yard touchdown drive, finished off with a one-yard run by Wildcat QB Thorson. The score was now 24-20 Northwestern with 5:28 left in the fourth quarter. Nevada’s next drive would be paramount to its success in this game. With the game hanging in the balance, a questionable call to put third string QB, Griffin Dahn in for a QB sneak which lead to a failed fourth-and-one conversion. Thorson and the Wildcats put together mirror-like drives, as the Wildcats drove another 47 yards down the field with the drive ending in another 1-yard TD run by Thorson, leaving just 52 seconds left on the clock.
Nevada opened the Norvell era up with a loss to a heavily favorited team in the Northwestern Wildcats. While a loss is still a loss, Pack fans do have something to be excited about, as Nevada competed with a team, that on paper, outmatched them in every category. The pack takes on Toledo this Saturday in Mackay Stadium at 4 p.m., looking to redeem a former Pack team that lost to the Rockets back in 1997.