RENO, Nev. (AP)—The payoff for Nevada may come later, perhaps in the form of a few top recruits—or some grudging recognition from those watching nationally that the Wolf Pack belong in the Top 25 after all.
Beating No. 3 Boise State in a game the 19th-ranked Wolf Pack was never supposed to win was the biggest thing to happen in this gambling city in quite some time. It may have been the biggest sports story here since Jack Johnson beat up on Jim Jeffries 100 years ago in a heavyweight title fight.
It certainly was a boost for a longtime coach whose only previous claim to fame was that he invented the increasingly popular pistol offense.
“It is the greatest victory this university has ever had, I can tell you that,” coach Chris Ault said. “The way it happened is just an unbelievable feeling.”
Play in the puny Western Athletic Conference, though, and the benefits can be limited. In Nevada’s case, that means the Wolf Pack’s only tangible rewards may be an improved rating and a trip to New Mexico for a bowl game that exists only to fill a few hours of television time for people taking a break from Christmas shopping.
It could be worse. At least Nevada fans get to celebrate a job well done.
Boise State’s faithful can only wonder what might have been as any hopes of a national title game or even a BCS bowl bid evaporated, when a kicker who had only missed three times all year whiffed on two short field goals. Final score in overtime: Nevada 34, Boise State 31.
For the better part of three quarters Friday night it looked like Boise State would go places that small schools aren’t supposed to go in the BCS system. Up 24-7 at half, the Broncos were playing with the cool efficiency that made them the darling of BCS busters everywhere and seemed headed for their 25th straight win.
Then Nevada’s vaunted ground game started grinding out the yards and the pistol offense stopped firing blanks. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick began hitting passes, and Vai Taua started getting big chunks of yardage up the middle.
Against a defense that was No. 1 in the nation against the run, the Wolf Pack ran at will. Nevada outgained Boise State 239-8 on the ground in the second half, rallying to tie the game not once, but twice, before the Broncos struck with a long pass with just 2 seconds left to set up what appeared to be a winning field goal from 26 yards.
Senior kicker Kyle Brotzman, though, missed wide right. Then he pulled one left on the first possession in overtime.
And a freshman kicker from a local high school made Boise State pay dearly. Anthony Martinez, who earlier had a field goal try blocked, calmly kicked a 34-yarder through the uprights, and the celebration was on.
Few had noticed as Nevada won all but one of its games this year and climbed into the national rankings for the first time since 1948.
Few had expected a team that had dropped 10 straight to Boise State and came into the game a 14-point underdog would upset one of the top teams in the country.
But the Wolf Pack did, gaining 528 yards on a defense that was only giving up 229 yards a game. Missed field goals aside, this was no fluke.
“This win puts a stamp on this program that says this team is ready to play football with any team in the country,” Kaepernick said.
Nevada will almost surely get a boost in the rankings this week heading into its last regular season game against Louisiana Tech. But with Boise State now likely headed to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco, the Wolf Pack may end up representing the WAC in the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 18.
That hardly seems fair, considering an unranked Connecticut team with four losses has the inside track to a big BCS bowl game worth millions to the school and the Big East Conference. But the BCS is not about being fair, and teams in conferences like the WAC have to take their victories when they can.
“I think Boise and the TCU’s of the world are showing people a balance in college football,” Ault said.
Ault could include his own team in that equation after the team from the Biggest Little City in the World won its biggest game ever.
“For these players to hang in there against such a great football team, the way they did it to win. I can’t describe it,” Ault said. “I’m just so proud of this team.”