RENO—Nevada’s Mountain West title hopes are alive. At least for one more week.
Nevada outscored New Mexico 21-7 in the second half on Saturday night at Mackay Stadium to pull out a 35-17 victory, one week after a heartbreaking home loss to UNLV.
The Wolf Pack improved to 3-3, 1-1 in conference play, avoiding a disastrous 0-2 start to Mountain West play against middle-of-the-road squads at home. The Lobos fell to 3-3, 1-1.
“After we were getting beat up after the UNLV game, a lot of guys felt disrespected,” Senior running back Don Jackson said. “A lot of guys felt there was a lot to prove.”
New Mexico entered with one of the best rushing attacks in the nation, averaging 290 yards a game on the ground, good for second in the conference. Those in attendance, the announced 20,426 that showed up, likely wouldn’t believe it.
The Lobos’ triple-option attack was held to 135 yards on the ground on 37 carries—3.6 yards a touch.
Nevada not only shut down the run defensively, but ran at will offensively. The Wolf Pack finished with 351 yards on 54 attempts—6.5 yards a carry. Nevada outgained New Mexico 517-273.
“If you told me that we were going to average 6.5 a carry and there were going to average (3.6) a carry, I’m sure I would have said ‘sign me up right now,’” Nevada third-year coach Brian Polian said. “I’m really, really pleased.”
Nevada ran the ball effectively despite a patch-up offensive line. Redshirt freshman Daren Echevaria and sophomore Ziad Damanhoury saw significant time at both guard positions—their first meaningful collegiate minutes.
Don Jackson and James Butler had monster nights behind the fill-in line. Jackson racked up a game-high 152 yards on 22 carries. Butler wasn’t far behind with 145 yards on 21 touches and a score.
“We felt like we could have a chance to run it effectively but we had to run north-south,” Polian said.
Junior quarterback Tyler Stewart had a quiet first half but finished 16-of-19 through the air for 166 yards and a pair of second-half touchdown tosses. He also ran the ball nine times for 64 yards and two touchdowns.
Stewart appeared poised to put the game away early in the fourth quarter, leading 21-10, at the New Mexico 16 but a botched handoff on a read-option play hit the turf. Cornerback Nias Martins was in the right place and went 77 yards the other way to pull the Lobos within four.
It was the second-straight week Stewart allowed a defensive touchdown in the fourth quarter. He also threw a pick-six in the fourth quarter against UNLV that ended up being the difference.
“That was totally me. I can’t do that. That’s totally unacceptable,” Stewart said. “That beat me up a little bit but everyone had my back and they were like ‘we got to go. We have to get another one.’”
This time, however, Nevada survived the momentum swing.
Stewart engineered touchdown drives on the final two possessions of the night of the night. The first ended with an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jarred Gipson and the second concluded with 27-yard pass to Jerico Richardson.
“That is big,” Polian said. “We’ve had a couple times this year where we’ve had the opportunity in the four-minute drill to finish teams off … That’s a positive step.”
Richardson caught nine balls for 121 yards and the score. No other Nevada receiver caught more than two passes.
Stewart joked the Richardson demanded the ball in the huddle but said the shifty junior simply found ways to get open.
Nevada trailed early on Saturday but took a 14-10 lead to the break thanks to a 15-yard Butler touchdown right up the middle. The true sophomore’s second rushing touchdown of the season finished off a four-play, 75-yard drive immediately in response to New Mexico’s only offensive touchdown of the game.
Teriyon Gipson bounced outside for a 38-yard touchdown that put the Lobos up 10-7 with 3:42 left in the half—their final lead of the afternoon.
Stewart spotted Nevada its first lead of the day, 7-3, with 8:54 left in the second quarter, on a 13-yard touchdown run down the right sideline.
The combination of a prolific running attack, efficiency in the passing game and shutdown defense amounted to Nevada’s most well-rounded effort of the season—one week after the toughest loss of the season.
“It’s one win, it’s 3-3, we have a lot football left in front of us,” Polian said. “But I’m very proud of this team.”
Nevada hits the road next Saturday, at Wyoming. The Cowboys sat at 0-5 heading into Saturday night’s contest at Air Force.
Kickoff is at 1 p.m.