Bengals drop Pack to 0-3 |

Bengals drop Pack to 0-3

Joe Santoro
Special to The R-C
Nevada’s McLane Mannix leaps over the Idaho State defense in the first half on Saturday.
Thomas Ranson/LVN |

The Nevada Wolf Pack football team did the unthinkable.

The Wolf Pack lost to the Idaho State Bengals of the Big Sky Conference, 30-28, on Saturday in front of a stunned crowd of 16,394 at Mackay Stadium. It is the Wolf Pack’s first loss to a Football Championship Subdivision team since they lost to Boise State in 1994. It is also the Pack’s first loss to Idaho State since 1981 after 11 consecutive victories.

“We certainly can play better than we did tonight,” Pack head coach Jay Norvell said. “That’s the part I’m most disappointed in.”

The Bengals, now 2-1 this season, dominated the first three quarters. Idaho State jumped out to a 30-7 lead with 10 minutes to go in the third quarter on a 50-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tanner Gueller to wide receiver Michael Dean on a slant down the middle of the Pack defense.

“I didn’t feel this team could run the ball on us the way they did,” Norvell said. “I didn’t think they could pass protect against us the way they did and I didn’t think their receivers could run routes on our secondary the way they did.”

The Bengals did all those things and more in taking a 23-point lead.

A 36-yard field goal by Parker Johnson gave Idaho State a 3-0 lead four minutes into the game and the Bengals led for the rest of the way. A 1-yard touchdown run by Ty Flanagan made it 10-0 with 6:45 to go in the first quarter. In the second quarter Johnson added another 36-yard field goal and one from 19 yards out and Gueller connected with Hagan Graves on a 15-yard scoring strike as the Bengals took a 23-7 lead at the break.

“This stings a lot,” offensive lineman Austin Corbett said. “We didn’t do our jobs across the board.”

The Pack, though, almost took the game to overtime.

Quarterback Kaymen Cureton, making his first college start, looked like a nervous freshman at the start of the game, completing just 8-of-17 passes for 55 yards with an interception by halftime.

“It was just nerves,” said Cureton, who became the first true freshman to start a game for the Wolf Pack since David Neill in 1998. “I was a little too jumpy.”

Cureton was intercepted on the Pack’s second drive, leading to Idaho State’s first touchdown and a 10-0 deficit. Cureton fumbled the ball away on a scramble, leading to Johnson’s 19-yard field goal with 10 seconds left in the first half for a 23-7 deficit.

Norvell said he understands if some of the fans in attendance wanted him to make a quarterback change at halftime. “I wanted to see him play in the second half,” Norvell said. “We felt that Kaymen was doing a lot of things we were asking him to do. It wasn’t all the quarterback’s fault at that point in the game.”

The momentum shifted drastically midway through the third quarter when the Pack defense finally got some crucial stops and Cureton settled down.

The 5-foot-11 Cureton led Nevada on an eight-play, 65-yard scoring drive to cut Idaho State’s lead to 30-14 with 7:10 left in the third quarter.

The running backs did the bulk of the work on the drive but Cureton did find wide receiver Wyatt Demps on a 21-yard pass to the Idaho State 39. A pass interference penalty gave the Pack a first down at the Bengals’ 25. The running backs took over from there. Kelton Moore carried three consecutive times for 13 yards and Blake Wright, who did not have a carry in the first two games of the season, found the end zone from 12 yards out.

Cureton played extremely well in the fourth quarter, completing 8-of-10 passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns as the Wolf Pack nearly completed a 23-point comeback.

“For his first start he did a lot of good things,” Norvell said. “We knew he would make plays and he did.”

Cureton engineered a 12-play, 67-yard scoring drive to cut Idaho State’s lead to 30-22. He found McLane Mannix for eight yards, O’Leary-Orange for four yards and Moore for 18 on the drive. He then put the ball in the end zone on a 10-yard pass to Demps in the back right corner of the end zone. Cureton then found Trevion Armstrong on a pass in the back right corner of the end zone for the two-point PAT to make it 30-22.

Cureton led his teammates on a 10-play, 78-yard drive that culminated in a 3-yard touchdown pass to Demps with 58 seconds to play, cutting the deficit to 30-28. The drive actually covered 84 yards as offensive tackle Jake Nelson was called for a 5-yard penalty for being illegally downfield on the first play and Cureton lost a yard on a scramble on the next play as he dropped the ball and fell on it. On the very next play, he found a streaking Mannix down the left sideline for a 54-yard gain down to the Idaho State 26. Moore had an 11-yard run to the 7. Cureton found Demps four plays later on fourth down for the touchdown.

The comeback fell short, though, as Cureton rolled to his right on the two-point conversion attempt. The ball slipped out of his hand and fell to the ground as he was about to loft a pass to Demps in the back right corner of the end zone.

“It just slipped,” Norvell said. “The ball came out of his hands. I liked the call. I liked the matchup.”

What he didn’t like was his team’s effort for the majority of the game.

“I was disappointed in our overall response in a competitive situation at home,” Norvell said. “We’ve got to live with that. I was disappointed in the way our guys fought. It’s my job to get to the bottom of it.”

The Wolf Pack outgained the Bengals 423-383, had more first downs (25-18) and, for the first time this season, dominated time of possession, controlling the ball for 35:26. Cureton was 19-of-33 for 205 yards and three touchdowns. Moore and Jaxson Kincaide each rushed for 96 yards as the Pack ran for 218 yards on 56 carries.

The statistics, though, didn’t matter for the winless Wolf Pack, who must now win six of their final nine games to become bowl eligible. Nevada goes on the road Saturday to face Washington State.

“We’re really not that far away from playing pretty good football,” Norvell said.