RENO - The Wolf Pack found a way to muzzle the Bulldogs Saturday in a highly charged Western Athletic Conference football game at Mackay Stadium before an announced attendance of 17,765.
Nevada (8-3, 7-1 league) upset 16th ranked Fresno State (8-3, 6-1), 38-35 in a wild finish in which the Pack recovered an onside kick with less than a minute remaining, and the scoreboard froze with 6 minutes left in the game.
The Pack, which secured their first winning season since 1998 and a piece of a conference championship in nine years, will learn of its postseason fate Monday. WAC commissioner Karl Benson will announce a bowl invitation for Nevada which will either be he Hawaii Bowl or perhaps the Motor City Bowl in Detroit.
Nevada led the Bulldogs 38-35 late in the game after the visitors scored on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Paul Pinegar to Matt Rivera and then converted a 2-point conversion pass from Pinegar to Joe Fernandez.
Fresno then tried an onside kick with less than a minute remaining in the final regular season game for Nevada.
The end-over-end kick ricocheted off a Nevada lineman and bounced back to the Fresno 33 when Anthony Pudewell dove into a pile of red jerseys and recovered the ball. The Pack ran the clock out and iced the game when Robert Hubbard ran the ball to the Fresno State 1-yard line with one second left remaining and slid before the goal line.
"I wanted to get out with a win. I wanted to run down the clock, and I went down on the 1," said the Nevada running back who gained 146 yards on 16 carries. He also led Nevada with three touchdowns.
The loss also dampened an excellent performance from Pinegar who completed 30 of 45 passes for 405 yards and four touchdowns.
"That's one of the greatest efforts from a team I've ever been associated with," Nevada coach Chris Ault said. "They played hard and gave it their all."
The Pack, though, had a lucky ending to a Cinderella night.
After Nevada's offense self-destructed on its second-to-last possession of the game, Jason Bergendahl punted the ball from the Pack's 38. The ball hit Fresno's lead blocker Rivera in the back, and Nevada's Kevin Stanley recovered the ball on the Bulldogs' 25.
Pack quarterback Jeff Rowe, on a third and one, threw a 12-yard pass down the middle to Nichiren Flowers with 1:12 left in the game.
That touchdown meant a lot of Rowe who completed 15 of 22 passes for 189 yards and no interceptions..
"I gave him (Flowers) a hug, and he appreciated it. He's a special guy," Rowe said of the senior wide receiver.
Brett Jaekle's point after touchdown gave Nevada a 38-27 lead.
"The focus was the most important thing. We never lost the intensity," Ault said.
Fresno coach Pat Hill, who lost to Nevada for only the second time in his nine-year tenure with the Bulldogs, said the better team was Nevada.
"We came in and got outplayed," Hill said. "I felt our team was ready to play, but I don't want to take anything away from them. It was a matter of execution."
Ault said Fresno has a good program, and Nevada was fortunate to defeat the Bulldogs.
"We felt we had to run it (the ball) and play action pass to win it," Ault said.
With Fresno driving, defensive back Joe Garcia intercepted Pinegar's pass with less than 7 minutes in the game and ran it back to the Fresno 45 for a 28-yard return.
Nevada regained the lead from Fresno with 8:12 left in the game when Hubbard ran a 13-yard draw play to put Nevada on top. The drive covered 72 yards on 10 plays. Jaekle's extra point made the score 31-27.
Four minutes earlier, Pinegar threw a 3-yard touchdown pass deep in the end zone to Paul Williams to give the visitors their first lead of the game, 25-24.
Pinegar then threw for the 2-point conversion to Jermaine Jamison to give Fresno a 27-24 lead.
The Pack scored first by beginning their initial possession on the Fresno 30-yard line after Fresno shanked a punt. Nevada's first possession stalled on the 22-yard line, resulting in Jaekle's successful 40-yard field goal with 10:41 left in the quarter.
The four-play drive took only 2:11.
Fresno began its second possession deep in its own territory after a holding penalty put the ball on the 12. The Bulldogs crossed into Wolf Pack territory before running out of downs on the 38. A 31-yard punt rolled out at the Nevada 7, but an illegal procedure on the Pack moved the ball back to the 4.
The Pack climbed out of the hole on a 15-yard pass from Rowe to Caleb Spencer.
A 52-yard pass play from Rowe to Kyle Sammons took the ball to the Fresno 21. Sammons caught the ball in front of the Nevada bench on the 37-yard line, and he ran a tightrope down the sideline until he was tackled..
After a penalty moved the ball to the 26, Rowe rolled to his right and then threw a pass diagonally across the field to Robert Hubbard.
On a first and goal from the 10, Rowe again rolled to his right, but with his receivers covered, the Nevada junior tucked the ball in and headed toward the end zone, barely crossing the goal line before being pushed out of bounds with 3:58 left in the quarter.
The seven-play drive, which gave Nevada a 10-0 lead, covered 91 yards.
Pinegar threw his longest pass in the first quarter, a 42-yard bomb to Paul Williams to the Nevada 38. The Fresno quarterback then set up a right screen to Williams who gained another 15 yards. After Pinegar ran a bootleg to the 17, he threw an incomplete pass that was almost intercepted by Fallon's Josh Mauga.
The Bulldogs had to settle for a 35-yard field goal from Kyle Zimmerman at the 2:40 mark. Fresno trailed the Pack 10-3.
Nevada responded in what would be a nine-play drive that covered 65 yards in 3:09. On the ensuing kickoff, the ball rolled out of bounds, and the penalty placed the ball on the Pack's 35. Rowe mixed up the plays and primarily used Hubbard to run the ball. On a first and 10 from the Fresno 20, Hubbard ran behind offensive lineman Adam Kiefer's block and scampered 20 yards to his right for the Pack's second touchdown 29 seconds into the second quarter. Jaekle's kick gave the Pack a 17-3 lead.
The Pack dominated Fresno in the first quarter, gaining 118 yards to the Bulldogs' 20. Rowe was 7 of 10 for 118 yards.
Fresno began to generate its offense in the second quarter and moved the ball easily down the field. A broken play and a 30-yard pass to Joe Fernandez gave Fresno the ball on the Wolf Pack 12.
Three running plays up the middle netted only 6 yards, and instead of trying to kick a field goal, the Bulldogs decided to run a fourth down play capped by a 5-yard touchdown pass from Pinegar to Jamison.
With the point after touchdown, Fresno cut the lead to 17-10 with 9:29 left in the first half.
The drive consumed almost five minutes as the Bulldogs covered 74 yards on 10 plays.
Nevada punished the Fresno defensive line with Mitchell (77 yards, 16 carries) and Hubbard running the ball. Mitchell's 25-yard run on the left side enabled the Pack to cross into Bulldogs' territory.
Five running plays later, Hubbard accelerated to his right and ran untouched 6 yards for a touchdown. The PAT gave the Pack a 24-10 led with 6:29 left before halftime.
The Pack's offense moved lightning-quick in 2:55, covering 78 yards on eight plays.
Fresno came back on the ensuing drive but mistakes voided a score.
A 5-yard pass interference on a third and nine gave Fresno a first down, but a personal foul on the Bulldogs moved the ball back to the 19. Pinegar threw two incomplete passes setting up a third and goal from the 14 after Nevada was whistled for illegal substitution.
Jamison hauled down Pinegar's pass deep in the end zone on fourth down, but he was ruled out of bounds. An unsportsmanlike penalty was thrown on Jamison for disputing the call. With the ball placed on the 29-yard line, Pinegar threw an incomplete pass.
Nevada fizzled on its next series and punted for the first time. With 1:24, Fresno took over on its own 49, the best field possession the Bulldogs had in the first half.
Pinegar started throwing shorter passes and quickly moved Fresno down the field in 44 seconds, capped by a 20-yard pass to Fernandez. Fresno need only seven plays to slice Nevada's lead. Zimmerman missed the extra point kick as Fresno trailed the Pack 24-16 with 40 seconds left before halftime.
Zimmerman atoned for his missed kick by nailing a 38-yard field goal early in the third quarter with 8:46 remaining. His field goal came at the end of Fresno's first possession in the second half that covered 56 yards in 4:38.
Neither team could generate any sustained offensive drive for the rest of the third quarter, but Fresno's defense found a way to keep scoreless Nevada out of the end zone.