Nevada Wolf Pack routs Portland State

RENO — Lightning, fortunately for the Nevada Wolf Pack football team on Friday night, did not strike for the second year in a row in the same place.

The Wolf Pack survived some early opening night jitters to obliterate the Portland State Vikings of the Big Sky Conference, 72-19, in front of a crowd of 17,525 at Mackay Stadium. The one-sided victory all but erased the memory of a stunning 30-28 loss to Idaho State of the Big Sky at Mackay Stadium less than a year ago on Sept. 16, 2017.

“Our main goal was just to come out and have fun and light up the scoreboard,” Wolf Pack quarterback Ty Gangi said. “I think we really set the tone as an exciting team to watch.”

The Wolf Pack clearly made a statement with the 52-point victory, its largest margin of victory since a 53-point (56-3) win over Idaho late in the 2011 season. The 72 points also equals the Wolf Pack’s scoring record at Mackay (72-0 win over North Texas in 1991).

“It was a typical first game,” Pack coach Jay Norvell said. “There were a lot of mistakes, too many penalties (nine). We have a lot of work to do to improve.”

The season-opening victory gave Norvell his first winning record (1-0) at any point in his short Nevada career. Norvell lost his first five games (the Idaho State loss was in Week 3) to finish with a 3-9 debut season as head coach. Portland State fell to 0-1 and has now lost 14 games in a row dating back to the 2016 season.

“We’re just scratching the surface of what we can do,” Norvell said.

Lightning did not strike down the Pack like it did last season against Idaho State but the Vikings did provide some annoying thunder very early in the game. Portland State jumped out to a stunning 9-0 lead 11 minutes into the game.

Quarterback Davis Alexander connected with tight end Charlie Taumoepeau for a 48-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring on the game’s first drive and Vikings’ defensive tackle Semise Kofe trapped Pack running back Kelton Moore in the end zone for a safety with 4:06 to go in the first quarter.

“We came out a bit shaky,” Norvell said.

“I think we dealt with that very maturely,” Gangi said. “We did a good job of not panicking and we just went out and did what we wanted to do.”

The 9-0 deficit brought back memories of the Pack’s 10-0 first-quarter deficit against Idaho State last season. But, unlike the Idaho State game, the Wolf Pack recovered nicely to dominate the Vikings.

The comeback started quickly as the Pack scored 23 unanswered points on the way to a 30-19 halftime lead. It was the defense, though, that kick-started the comeback as cornerback Daniel Brown stepped in front of an Alexander pass and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown and the Pack’s first points of the season.

“That was a huge play,” Norvell said. “But we’re bigger on the defensive line this year and when those guys put on a good pass rush those things (interceptions) can happen. We need to get turnovers to be a good defense.”

A 46-yard field goal by the Pack’s Ramiz Ahmed on the first play of the second quarter evened the game at 9-9. The Pack offense’s first touchdown of the season also gave the Pack its first lead of the season. Gangi lofted a pass to a streaking McLane Mannix down the right sideline for a 58-yard score and a 16-9 Pack lead two minutes into the second quarter. Gangi, who completed just two of his first seven passes, finished the game 16-of-26 for 342 yards and three touchdowns.

“I thought this was a great performance by our offense,” said Mannix, who scored three touchdowns on just four catches. “We showed our potential.”

Freshman running back Devonte Lee, who scored 89 touchdowns during his high school career in Oklahoma City, scored a touchdown on his second Wolf Pack carry. The 5-foot-8, 230-pound Lee rambled over the left side for 14 yards and a score for a 23-9 Pack lead with just under five minutes to go in the first half.

“We have a lot of young players who can make plays,” Norvell said. “I’m not afraid to play freshmen. We want to give those guys an opportunity.”

Portland State’s final clap of thunder, though, came on its first play from scrimmage after Lee’s score. Alexander hooked up with Taumoepeau once again, this time for a 75-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the Pack defense, cutting the Pack lead to 23-16.

The Portland State quarterback completed seven of his first 12 passes for 126 yards. He finished the game by completing just six of his final 20 passes for 98 yards.

Taumoepeau’s second touchdown, however, was as close as the Vikings would get the rest of the evening. Gangi and Mannix connected for their second score of the night from 18 yards out as the Pack took a 30-16 lead just 59 seconds before halftime.

Portland State, which is now 4-37 against Football Bowl Subdivision schools, did manage a 31-yard field goal as the second quarter ended to cut the halftime deficit to 30-19. But the Wolf Pack, now 8-0 when opening a season against Football Championship Subdivision teams (since moving to the FBS in 1992), then came out after halftime and simply destroyed the outmanned Vikings.

The Pack, which last played Portland State in 1976, scored four touchdowns in the third quarter to take a 58-19 lead. The 28 points is the most the Pack has scored in a quarter under Norvell, surpassing the 24 scored in the second quarter of the 59-14 victory over San Jose State last season.

The Wolf Pack scored quickly, easily and often in the third quarter, scoring four touchdowns in a span of just 6:30. The Pack also needed just 12 plays combined on their four scoring drives, covering 250 yards.

The Wolf Pack, which outgained the Vikings 636-348, simply overwhelmed the Vikings.

Moore scored on a 9-yard run less than two minutes into the second half for a 37-19 lead, capping a quick four-play, 76-yard scoring drive. Gangi also connected with Kaleb Fossum for a 33-yard completion on the first play of the drive and later found Elijah Cooks for 29 more yards.

The second time the Pack got the ball on the third quarter it took them just one play and 11 seconds to score. Jaxson Kincaide, who did not score a touchdown last season as a sophomore after scoring three as a freshman in 2016, went 73 yards on the Pack’s wildcat formation for a touchdown as the Pack upped its lead to 44-19. Running back Toa Taua played quarterback on the play and simply flipped the ball forward to Kincaide for what turned out to be the longest scoring pass play for the Pack.

Kincaide’s score, though, signaled only the halfway point in the Pack scoring in the third quarter. Gangi and Mannix connected for their third touchdown just three minutes after Kincaide’s touchdown for a 51-19 lead. This time it was from 47 yards out, capping a 62-yard, four-play drive.

Mannix finished with four catches for 132 yards and Fossum, who suffered a season-ending leg injury in the season opener last year, had six catches for 139 yards.

“I really happy to have him back on the field,” said Mannix of Fossum.

The Pack’s fourth and final touchdown of the third quarter was a 5-yard run by Gangi, finishing off a quick, three-play, 39-yard scoring drive.

The Wolf Pack’s bench and special teams also joined the points party in the fourth quarter. Backup quarterback Cristian Solano scored on a 9-yard run and Romeo Doubs returned a punt 80 yards for the final touchdown of the night.

“We have the opportunity to be very dynamic on special teams and defensively,” Norvell said. “We have a lot of ways we can score.”

The Wolf Pack will play at Vanderbilt on Sept. 8 while Portland State travels to Oregon the same day.

“We want to carry this momentum into next week,” Gangi said.


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