RENO - In the past two games, the Louisiana Tech offense looked like world beaters. The Bulldogs had averaged 40 points and 451 yards a game with a punishing ball-control running game and an efficient passing attack.
It looked like Nevada's defense, which had come under fire as recently as two weeks ago, was in for a tough day. Not even close.
The Wolf Pack held Louisiana Tech to 229 yards total offense, and the offense shook off a bad second quarter to score 23 second-half points en route to a 37-27 come-from-behind Western Athletic Conference victory before a paltry crowd of 8,377 at Mackay Stadium.
The win upped Nevada's record to 4-2 overall and a perfect 3-0 in WAC play. The Bulldogs dropped to 3-3 overall and 2-1 in conference. The victory snapped a four-game skid against Louisiana Tech. With five games left in the season, Nevada is two wins away from being bowl eligible.
"I thought the defense was outstanding," Nevada coach Chris Ault said. "I don't know the stats, but that defense won the game for us.
"That's a good football team. They're bigger than us and they took us to the shed last year. We needed to beat a physical football team and Louisiana Tech is a physical team."
Nevada, led by outside linebacker Ezra Butler (11 tackles), inside linebacker Roosevelt Cooks (5 tackles, a sack), cornerback Kevin Stanley (5 tackles, a breakup), cornerback Joe Garcia (4 tackles, an interception and a breakup) and Jeremy Engstrom (6 tackles) completely took away the run, limiting Louisiana Tech to 32 carried for 68 yards.
"We couldn't seem to make the plays," Louisiana Tech coach Jack Bicknell said. "Our running backs are a little banged up. It could have been the good defense. We had opportunities to win the game, we just couldn't make the plays.
"I had a feeling that it would be this type of game. They have a good football team. We have a good football team. It was a good game."
It was a game that Nevada dominated early, scoring on its first two possessions to take a 14-0 lead on two Jeff Rowe TD passes to Nichiren Flowers and redshirt freshman Tommy Haug, only to see the Bulldogs rip off the next 21 points thanks to a special teams mistake and two mistakes by the offense.
Patrick Jackson's 55-yard kickoff return after Haug's TD gave the 'Dogs a first down at the Nevada 42. Three plays later, Tech quarterback Matt Kubik lofted a perfect strike to Jon Holland, who made a brilliant one-handed catch. Danny Horwedel's PAT made it 14-7 with 2:59 left.
A 52-yard punt that was downed at the 9 with 9 1/2 minutes left in the half put the Pack in a bind, and they melted.
Two penalties put the ball back at the Nevada 3, and on first-and-16, Rowe was trying to scramble out of the end zone when he lost control of the ball and Eddie White recovered in the end zone. The PAT tied the game at 14.
It got worse.
Rowe, who passed for 269 yards and accounted for all four Nevada touchdowns (two rushing and two receiving), had a second-down pass down the middle of the field intercepted by Robert Burrell, who returned it one yard at the Pack 47, but the defense held when Garcia intercepted a pass at the goalline and returned it out to the 3. It might have been better just to knock the ball away.
On the next play, B.J. Mitchell, who rushed for 146 yards, fumbled at the 1 and Ladarius Love recovered. After being stopped for no gain twice, Freddie Franklin finally scored from the 1 to give Tech a 21-14 lead with 2:32 left.
"Dumb, dumb," was all Rowe could say in the post-game press conference when asked about the two fumbles. "It was a dumb interception and then B.J. and I had a little miscommunication."
"We lost our quarterback for about nine minutes when they got the two touchdowns," Ault said.
A 4-yard punt by the usually reliable Justin Bergendahl gave Tech great field position at the Nevada 24, but the Bulldogs came away empty thanks to a 5-yard sack by Josh Mauga and a 13-yard sack by Cooks.
"That was big," Bicknell said. "That last sack (by Cooks) and not getting at least a field goal. It was a great opportunity, we just didn't get it done."
In the past, Nevada teams would be accused of quitting in this situation. Just the opposite this time.
Rowe attoned for his errors early in the third period when he scrambled for a career-long 31-yard TD which tied the game at 21 after Brett Jaekle's extra point with 9:12 left. Rowe seemed to escape trouble throughout the game. Tech had just a few clean shots on him.
"That was fun," Rowe said. "I don't think I've ever done anything like that before. The route didn't work out and I had a chance to run. It gave me some confidence."
Tech took a 27-24 lead on Jackson's 3-yard scoring run with 13:55 left in the game, but Craig Bailey blocked the PAT.
The Bulldogs got five first downs on that drive, but only got two the rest of the game, as Nevada controlled the ball the rest of the way thanks to its offensive line of Dom Green, Tony Moll, Charles Manu, Barrett Reznick and Adam Kiefer.
Jaekle tied the game at 27 with 9:39 left, capping a 15-play 67-yard drive. Rowe completed a 12-yard pass to Flowers on a fourth-and-4 situation for a first down at the Tech 20. Nevada moved the ball down to the 6, but Rowe was sacked for a 7-yard loss, and Ault went for the game-tying field goal.
Nevada put together another bone-crunching drive, going 78 yards in 14 plays. Jaekle came on to kick his third field goal of the contest, a 21-yarder to make it 30-27 with 3:12 left.
Rowe put the icing on the proverbial cake in the final minute of the game when he scored on a 4-yard run after Tech turned the ball over on downs at its own 21.
""Jaekle was outstanding on field goals," Ault said. "Those were pressure kicks. He kicked with poise.
"Jeff Rowe giveth and Jeff Rowe taketh away. Offensively we ran the ball very well in that fourth quarter. Our offensive line was able to run at will."