Cardiac Cats pull off wild victory in New Mexico Bowl
If anyone expected Saturday's Gildan New Mexico Bowl to be a defensive struggle, they obviously hadn't seen either Nevada or Arizona play football this season.
The two teams' offenses combined for more than 12,000 total yards in 2012, and neither offense disappointed any of the 24,610 fans on hand who braved the dreary weather at University Stadium in Albuquerque.
While the nature of the contest might not have surprised anyone, Wolf Pack players and fans were nothing short of astonished when the final whistle blew as Arizona staged an improbable and nearly miraculous comeback to win, 49-48.
Nevada took a 21-0 first-quarter lead, and then held off an initial Wildcats comeback to take a 31-28 halftime lead.
By the conclusion of the first half, the two teams had accounted for more than 700 yards and eight touchdowns. The 52 points scored during the first two quarters were a New Mexico Bowl record.
But the Nevada defense finally showed up in the third quarter, and Wolf Pack quarterback Cody Fajardo threw for one touchdown and ran for another to help give his team a 45-28 advantage. The Wildcats were out-rushed 94 yards to 17 in the quarter, and when Allen Hardison tacked on a short field goal with 1 minute and 48 seconds left, the game looked all but decided.
Arizona quarterback Matt Scott even admitted to reporters after the game that he wasn't exactly having positive thoughts on the sideline with his team down 13 points with just 108 seconds remaining in the game.
But Scott stepped on the field and appeared ready to play the part of hero when he drove his team 75 yards down the field and completed a two-yard touchdown pass to Austin Hill to pull the Wildcats to 48-42.
With 46 seconds left, Arizona still had to successfully execute an onside kick. When linebacker Marquise Flowers smothered the ball at their own 49-yard line, it began to actually look like the Wildcats had an outside chance of pulling off the impossible.
Three plays and 51 yards later, Scott hit Tyler Slavin for a short touchdown pass to tie the game at 48-48 with 19 seconds left. John Bonano knocked through the extra point to give Arizona the one-point lead, and then Flowers picked off a Fajardo pass on the ensuing Wolf Pack possession to secure the victory.
"They scored 14 points in less than two minutes," Nevada linebacker Albert Rosette said. "I'm still in shock right now."
Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez called the win improbable, but it was probably more than just a win on the scoreboard for the first-year coach. His tenure at Michigan proved a less than impressive one, and while the Wildcats beat three ranked opponents this season, they still suffered huge losses to Oregon and UCLA. The dramatic bowl victory gives the program a shot of confidence heading into the off-season.
"Certainly, I've had some games come down to that end," Rodriguez told reporters after the game.
"But to have everything, the defense making the stop, to the field goal, Matt leading the quick drive down there, getting the onside kick … and then Matt leading down again. It just doesn't happen very often."
The game also featured the nation's two leading rushers in Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey and Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson. Carey rushed for 172 yards and three touchdowns while Jefferson gained 180 yards on the ground and scored two touchdowns.
Fajardo completed 22 of 31 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed 140 more yards and a touchdown.
Scott went 28 for 47 for 382 yards and three touchdowns, eight of those completions going to Hill who racked up 175 yards and two touchdowns.
The 97 combined points were the most in New Mexico Bowl history and the teams combined for 1,237 yards on offense.
Arizona ends the season with a record of 8-5, while Nevada finishes at 7-6.