RENO—Now that is how you send a senior class out.
After losing on the last three Senior Days, Nevada pulled out a thrilling 37-34 overtime victory over San Jose State on Saturday afternoon at Mackay Stadium to become bowl eligible for the 10th time in the last 11 seasons.
“There is a lot to talk about in that game but the biggest take away is how very proud I am of our team,” Nevada third-year coach Brian Polian said. “In the end, we made enough plays to win the game.”
The final play, an 11-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Stewart to tight end Jarred Gipson, not only sent the Nevada players and coaches rushing onto the field with a walk-off victory, but came one possession after a coming-of-age drive led by Stewart.
It was a similar spot the Nevada offense had been in times before this season—in losses to UNLV and Wyoming. This time, the offense came through.
Trailing 31-24, the Pack took over possession at its own 25 and 2:49 showing on the Mackay Stadium scoreboard. Stewart converted a pair of fourth downs—one with his arm and one with his legs—and led a 14-play drive and resulted in a game-tying 2-yard Don Jackson touchdown run with 36 seconds remaining.
“All three of them were similar situations,” Stewart said comparing the fourth-quarter drive to unsuccessful attempts against UNLV and Wyoming. “I felt like I was pretty poised in the other two games, it just came down to execution. I wasn’t executing at the level we needed to. And this time, we did.”
After Jackson scored, the Spartans had their full compliment of timeouts. A 21-yard scramble by quarterback Kenny Potter and a 17-yard completion to Tim Crawley set kicker Austin Lopez up for a would-be game-winning field goal attempt from 51 yards out with six seconds left.
Redshirt freshman Ahki Muhammad got around the left side and stuffed the attempt. The ball bounced back into the Spartans’ secondary where Elijah Mitchell scooped it up and nearly ended the game with a touchdown but was caught at the 20 with zeroes on the clock.
Polian joked there was a specific play called for the block.
“It’s called put Ahki Muhammad in the game,” he laughed. “He’s actually our designated edge rusher because he’s so quick and he’s little. He’s low to the ground. When San Jose took the timeout, it allowed us the opportunity to make the substitution … He got a great jump.”
Nevada won the overtime coin toss and elected to defend first. Senior defensive end Lenny Jones got just enough of Potter’s shoe lace on a third-down scramble to force a 35-yard field goal that Lopez drilled.
Needing a touchdown to win, or a field goal to force a second overtime, Stewart sent the announced crowd of 17,215 into a frenzy three plays later with the touchdown pass to Gipson.
“I was just happy to turn around and everybody was running up to me and I was like ‘oh, I just did this for my team.’ So it was great feeling,” Gipson said.
Before the frantic final minutes of regulation and overtime, it was game of runs. The Wolf Pack scored the first 10 points then the Spartans scored the next 21 to take a 21-10 on their first possession of the second half with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Potter to Billy Freeman.
Potter completed 15-of-23 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns but did his most extensive damage on the ground. He kept the rock 19 times for 116 yards.
Nevada then responded with 14-straight points, on a 58-yard James Butler touchdown and a 24-yard touchdown toss from Stewart to Hasaan Henderson, to retake the lead, 24-21.
Butler finished with a game-high 119 rushing yards on 16 carries. Stewart was 16-of-26 passing for 174 yards and three touchdowns.
Then it was the Spartans’ turn again. They scored the next 10 points to take a 31-24 lead, capped with a 37-yard field goal from Lopez with less than three minutes remaining.
The field goal put the finishing touches on a seven-minute, 14-play drive that covered 60 yards before Nevada bowed its back and kept it a one-possession game before the late drama.
“We were in a bunch of these games the last two years, and it felt like we never found a way to get it done at the end,” Polian said. “We found a way to get it done today.”
San Jose State fell to 4-6, 3-3 in Mountain West play with the loss while Nevada improved to 6-4, 4-2 in conference play with its third-straight victory.
Nevada also mathematically stayed alive in the chase for first place in the Mountain West—West, staying two games back of San Diego State.
With the home portion of its schedule complete, Nevada will end the regular season with two games away from Mackay Stadium—next Saturday at Utah State and Nov. 28 at SDSU.