Week nine of my cross-country college football journey had me in Reno, Nevada for a Mountain West showdown between Fresno State and Nevada. A Fresno win, would vault the Bulldogs into a first place tie with San Diego State who had defeated Air Force earlier in the day. I walked up to the stadium and immediately found a great tailgate party hosted by several Bulldogs fans who had made the four-hour drive through the snowy Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was bitter cold as game time temperature had dipped to 29 degrees at kickoff. After feasting on some tasty ribs and a few cups of hot cocoa, it was time to head into the stadium and to my seat.
THE HISTORY Chris Ault is in his 24th year as the head coach of the Wolf Pack, but what is strange is that this is third stint as head coach! Ault is an icon in northern Nevada, and is credited with developing the “Pistol” offense. The Pistol offense is a high-octane offense designed to feature both running the option and the spread passing game. It is recognizable by having the quarterback taking snaps in the shotgun, with a running back typically lined up directly behind him. Ault has taken the Wolf Pack to seven straight bowl games, and they will be making another bowl appearance this season.
Nevada plays their home games in Mackey Stadium which was built-in 1966. The stadium has been remodeled three times and currently seats 33,400 fans. The Wolf Pack have been around forever it seems because Nevada began playing football in 1896. In that time, the Wolf Pack have won 14 conference titles, and they have played in what is currently the FBS since 1992. The Nevada program holds two distinct NCAA records. In 2009, Nevada became the only team in NCAA football history to have three players break 1,000 yards rushing during the same season. The three players to accomplish this feat for the Wolf Pack were running backs Luke Lippincott and Vai Taua, along with quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The other record is also held by Kaepernick 2007-10 who is the only college football quarterback in history to pass for 10,000 and rush for more than 4,000 yards.
Nevada has played two very memorable games in history. The first coming in what is known as the 1923 Cal Game., and the second is what’s known as “Blue Friday”.
The 1923 Cal game will always be remembered in Nevada football history because it was an improbable 0-0 tie. Cal entered the game in the with a 50-game undefeated streak, four consecutive conference championships, and two consecutive Rose Bowl appearances. The team was so dominant it was known as the “Wonder Team.” The fact that the Wolf Pack, a much smaller program from a lower division, held powerhouse Cal scoreless in Berkeley, makes this one of the biggest tie games in college football history. Cal would go on to finish the season with a 9-0-1 record, and claims 1923 as one of their national championship years, blemished only by the tie to Nevada.
On November 26, 2010 No. 19 Nevada faced No. 3 Boise State in Reno, a match-up hyped as the biggest sporting event in Reno in the last 100 years. Boise State held the nation’s longest winning streak at 24 games, and the Broncos were trying to jump Oregon in the BCS poll, and have a chance at appearing in the BCS National Championship Game. All that was needed was a win against Nevada. At the start of the third quarter, Nevada was trailing 24-7, but mounted a furious comeback led gby Senior Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who scored on an 18-yard rushing touchdown to cut the lead to 24-14. In the 4th quarter the Wolf Pack scored a rushing touchdown when Rishard Matthews broke through the defense on a reverse to cut it to 24-21. The next time Nevada had the ball, Kicker Anthony Martinez kicked a 23-yard field goal to tie the game 24-24. Boise State was not finished scoring and would answer with a quick touchdown, when Kellen Moore hit Doug Martin on a screen for a 79-yard touchdown pass to go up 31-24. Getting the ball back with 4:53 remaining in the game, Kaepernick led the Wolf Pack on a 14-play drive, capped off with a touchdown pass to Rishard Matthews to tie the game at 31-31 after the conversion. Boise got the ball back, and with 13 seconds remaining, Kellen Moore threw a bomb down to the Nevada 9 yard line with two seconds remaining. But Boise State could not score as the Broncos kicker missed a 26-yard field goal as time expired in regulation. In Overtime, the Broncos missed a 29-yard field goal, and when Nevada got its turn on offense, Anthony Martinez made a 34-yard field goal to give Nevada the biggest win in the history of the program, knocking Boise State out of BCS title and Rose Bowl contention. The game became known as “Blue Friday” and it is still celebrated by hardcore fans!
THE TRADITION The Wolf Pack has two traditional rivals. The biggest is the very combative rivalry with Boise State, as it seems these two teams genuinely don’t care for one other. UNLV is the natural in-state rival, but this game is never as intense as the Boise game. The Wolf Pack marching band is known as the “Pride of the Sierra” and it performs both before the game and again at halftime. The School fight song is “Hail to our sturdy team,” and the school has two official mascots, Alphie and Wolfie Jr. They can be seen roaming the sidelines and the stadium during the game.
THE GAME The Bulldogs jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead when Quarterback Derek Carr hit Devante Adams with a 36-yard scoring strike. Nevada answered back five minutes later on a 2-yard touchdown run from Stefphon Jefferson to tie the game at 7. Both teams traded touchdowns in a wild second quarter that ended in a 21-21 deadlock. The Bulldogs used two defensive scores on a fumble and interception return to score 23 unanswered points in the third quarter, taking a commanding 44-21 lead en route to a 52-36 victory that moved the Bulldogs into a first-place tie atop the Mountain West Conference. Robbie Rouse rushed for 261 yards and two scores to lead the Fresno offense, and the Bulldogs had three defensive scores in the game setting an all time school record! The Bulldogs have one remaining game, as they host Air Force on November 11, with a win against the academy guaranteeing a share of the conference title.
Up next — I will be coming to you from either Oregon State or Oregon!
- Fresno State’s Rouse, Brown win conference football honors (fresnobee.com)