Friday night, Reno, Nevada and beautiful sunny skies welcomed all fans as we made our way into Mackay Stadium. I couldn’t have picked a better place to be week one of the 2019 season. For Purdue fans who followed the rails west, the anticipation was high — an estimated 5,000 Boilermaker fans were in the stadium. Nevada fans were excited to get the season started, facing a Big 10 team in Reno for only the second time ever. Prior to the opening kickoff, I spoke with a Nevada booster who had told me that, the Wolfpack were better than advertised. He told me, “Be ready for a 60-minute battle,” Dale, if you’re reading this, good call!
NEVADA FOOTBALL BEGINS
The University played their first two sanctioned football games in 1896 and were known as the Sagebrushers. They played Belmont preparatory school and were defeated 70-0. Two weeks later they had a better against the Berkeley “Second Eleven,” falling ony 40-0. In 1901 Nevada named its first official head coach, Allen Steckle who served as head coach for three years. compiling a 6-9-2 record, highlighted by his 1903 team which defeated the University of California, causing a statewide celebration. It was a remarkable win considering Nevada’s enrollment was just 80 students compared to an enrollment of over 3,000 for California. The entire front page of the Daily Nevada State Journal was given to coverage of the game, and the banner headline read: “CALIFORNIA’S PROUD COLORS LOWERED BY THE DOUGHTY ELEVEN FROM SAGEBRUSHDOM.”
Chris Ault is considered the godfather of Nevada football. He had three different stints as the head coach. Ault quarterbacked the Wolfpack from 1965-68, and became the head coach in 1976 where he stayed until 1992. He would return as head coach for the 1994 and 95 seasons, and also served as the Athletic Director for Nevada from 1986-2004. After the 2004 football season, he fired his head coach Chris Tormey and three days later named himself head coach. He is credited with being the creator of the Pistol Offense. The Pistol offense reached it’s highwater mark when Quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran it to near perfection. Ault was inducted into the college football Hall of Fame as a coach in 2002 and the field at Mackay Stadium was named Chris Ault field in 2013 for his numerous accomplishments. His career record is 234-108-1 and during his 28 years coaching, he led the Wolfpack to nine conference championships.
FUN FACTS ABOUT NEVADA FOOTBALL
- Nevada has been a member of the Mountain West Conference since 2012.
- The Wolfpack have won 14 conference titles in their history.
- The Nevada Marching Band isknown as “Pride of the Sierra”.
- The team mascots are known as Alfie and Wolfie Jr.
- Nevada recorded the largest comeback in NCAA history in 1991 when they came back to beat Weber State 55-49. They had trailed by 35 points at halftime.
- Two players have had their number retired. #27 Frank Hawkins and #41 Marion Motley.
- Other notable Wolfpack players include Colin Kaepernick, Nate Burleson and Marty Zendejas.
- Nevada is 6-10 lifetime in bowl games.
The Nevada and UNLV Football programs have a strong disdain for each other. The in-state rivalry started on November 22, 1969. The Fremont Cannon was introduced as the rivalry trophy in 1970 by Bill Ireland, who attended Nevada and was UNLV’s first football coach. The 1995 game was marred by pre and post-game fights between both teams and with many fights between fans in the stands. Nevada would go on to win the game and the conference title outright. Since then the rivalry has lost some of its luster, but as of 2012, Nevada and UNLV became members of the Mountain West Conference creating more intensity. Nevada leads the series 26-17.
The Broncos and the Wolfpack have a long-standing rivalry which dates back to 1971. These two teams have squared off in some of the most exciting games in terms of conference title berths. The 2006 game may be the most memorable. Nevada and Boise State would meet in Reno in Boise State’s final regular season game. Boise State won the game, giving the Broncos a berth into the Fiesta Bowl. This would be Boise State’s first BCS bowl game, where they would go on to beat Oklahoma in dramatic fashion. In 2010, the two teams met for another meaningful game near the end of the season. Nevada beat Boise State in another dramatic overtime game, ending the Broncos’ chances of playing in the Rose Bowl.
Nevada QB Carson Strong and Kicker Brandon Talton grew up together in Vacaville, California. They were a year apart and attended rival schools. Little did they know what role they were about to play in the Wolfpack’s dramatic come-from-behind win Friday night. Strong sat out his senior year at Wood High in Vacaville and again last year as a redshirt at Nevada, he hadn’t started a game since 2017. He went on to complete 30 of 51 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns on Friday. Purdue had jumped out to a commanding 24-7 halftime lead behind Quarterback Elijah Sindelar and wide receiver Rondale Moore. The Wolfpack defense rose to the challenge in the second half, spearheading the turnaround. Nevada tailback Toa Taua cut the lead to 31-24 with seven minutes left in the game, on a seven-yard touchdown run. The Wolfpack would then tie the score with 52 seconds remaining when Strong found Elijah Cooks for a 20-yard scoring strike. Purdue attempted to move into field goal range, but Sindelar was picked off by Daniel Brown with just 32 seconds left in the game. That set the stage for walk-on kicker Brandon Talton. His 56-yard field goal, split the uprights giving the Wolfpack a 34-31 win. Talton’s longest previous field goal was only 47 yards. After the game head coach Jay Norvell awarded Talton with a scholarship. It was quite the night in Reno.