The Nevada Wolf Pack entered Saturday’s contest with high expectations, and they answered the call with a 37-26 senior night victory over Fresno State at Mackay Stadium.
Following a tough loss at Hawaii to erase an undefeated season, Nevada responded with a much-needed win to keep its chances afloat for a potential Mountain West Championship appearance. The Wolf Pack improved to 6-1 on the year and will face undefeated San Jose State for the eight-game truncated regular season finale.
It wasn’t pretty, but Nevada made an impact at all three phases. The Wolf Pack had 416 yards of total offense while forcing key stops against Fresno State’s potent offense. The special teams unit shined with a blocked punt, forced fumble and 78 return yards on the night.
Nevada head coach Jay Norvell was impressed with his team’s efforts against a stout Fresno State team loaded with playmakers.
“It was a wild game with a lot of big plays, but I’m really proud of how we responded,” he said postgame. “I thought our defense responded when it needed to. Our offense made big plays, and we made some plays on special teams. It was a complete team effort out there.”
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Carson Strong led the way offensively, completing 23-of-39 passes for 354 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. Freshman wide receiver Tory Horton had a game to remember. The Fresno, Calif. native finished with a career-high 148 yards and three touchdowns.
Strong and Horton’s 85-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter was the longest play of the season and shifted the tightly knit contest back into Nevada’s favor.
“It was a great ball by Carson allowing me to get into open field,” Horton said postgame. “Running down the sideline was a lot of excitement, that play itself was amazing.”
Junior tight end Cole Turner hauled in five catches for 69 yards and two touchdowns. Romeo Doubs added 97 receiving yards on seven catches. Running backs Toa Taua and Devonte Lee combined for 75 rushing yards in the win.
Defensively, Nevada held versatile running back Ronnie Rivers to 69 rushing yards and forced several key fourth down stops to halt Fresno State’s offensive attack. Wolf Pack safety Tyson Williams recorded a forced fumble for the team’s fifth turnover of the season.
“Our defense responded so well, especially in the second half,” Norvell said. “They threw the ball on us in the first half, but we settled down and made some adjustments on that end.”
Nevada jumped out to a 3-0 lead on its first offensive drive after Brandon Talton drilled a season-long 53-yard field goal. Fresno State answered with a 73-yard scoring drive to take a 7-3 lead. The Wolf Pack offense took advantage of a fumble recovery, and Strong connected with Turner on a five-yard score to put Nevada ahead 10-7. Strong and Turner connected on another goal line fade, as Nevada held a 17-7 advantage in the first quarter.
Fresno State responded with a six-yard rushing touchdown run by quarterback Jacob Haenar to trim Nevada’s lead. Strong’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Horton put the Wolf Pack back ahead 24-14. The Bulldogs inched closer with another late touchdown to cut Nevada’s advantage 24-20 at halftime.
Fumble recoveries and turnovers by both teams paused the high scoring affair in the third quarter. To start the fourth quarter, Strong’s 85-yard touchdown to Horton put the Wolf Pack ahead 30-20. Following another key fourth down stop, Strong found Horton for the third time on a 32-yard score to put the game away.
Up Next: Nevada faces the 5-0 San Jose State Spartans for the final game of the regular season. The contest is expected to take place at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas due to COVID-19 procedures. San Jose State has solidified its spot as a top-tier team in the conference, and it has major implications for the Mountain West Championship.
“We’re going to have one hell of a challenge but we’re looking forward to it,” Norvell said. “If any body would give you one game to win for a chance at a championship, you take it every year.”
Isaiah Burrows can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @IsaiahBurrows_.