ALBUQURQUE, N.M. – The Arizona Wildcats needed just 1:48 to score 14 points to rally for a come-from-behind 49-48 win over the Nevada Wolf Pack in the seventh annual Gildan New Mexico Bowl Saturday afternoon before 24,610 on Branch Field at University Stadium.
Nevada (7-6, out of the Mountain West) outscored Arizona 14-0 in the third quarter and looked to be in control after they finished their final offensive drive with a 25-yard field goal by Allen Hardison with 1:48 left in the fourth quarter to give the Wolf Pack a seemingly solid 48-35 lead.
But the Wildcats offense came alive on the next possession, going 75 yards in just 7 plays to score a touchdown when senior quarter back Matt Scott hit sophomore Austin Hill with a 2 yard pass to cut the Nevada lead to 48-42 with 46 seconds left in the game.
Arizona junior linebacker Marquis Flowers then made the first of two crucial plays on the ensuing kickoff, capturing the onside kick at the Wildcats 49 yard line.
Scott then drive the Wildcats 51 yards in three plays, using just 21 seconds, and ultimately hitting Tyler Slavin with a 2-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 48-48.
After a Nevada timeout, Arizona kicker John Bonano confidently hit his point after to give Arizona a 49-48 lead.
After the kickoff, Flowers stepped up, literally, to intercept a pass by Wolf Pack quarterback Cody Fajardo and Arizona (8-5, out of the Pac-12) then ran the clock out to secure the victory.
The Wildcats’ miracle finish overshadowed a record breaking day for Nevada, which set an all-bowl record with 39 first downs and set a New Mexico Bowl record with 659 yards of total offense. Fajardo himself set a New Mexico record with 396 yards of total offense, going 22 of 31 passing for 256 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Scott topped the Nevada QB with a 382 yard passing performance himself, going 28 of 47 with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
The battle of the nations top running backs – Arizona’s KaDeem Carey and Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson – was pretty much a draw. Carey, No. 1 in the nation, finished with 172 yards on 28 carries and three touchdowns. Jefferson, who came in ranked No. 2, finished with 180 yards on 34 carries with two touchdowns.
Nevada raced out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, giving the impression that the game might not live up to its billing as the biggest shoot out of the bowl season.
Jefferson capped an 8 play, 75 yard drive with an easy16-yard run to give Nevada a 7-0 lead 12:12 into the game. After trading possessions with the Wildcats, who misfired often early, Nevada again geared up and went on a 8 play, 48-yard drive capped by a 17-yard pass from Fajardo to Zach Sudefield to give the Wolf Pack a 14-0 advantage with 4:43 left in the first quarter.
Arizona turned the ball over on the ensuing kick off and Fajardo needed just one play to score again, catching Sudefield again for a 28-yard pass to give Nevada a 21-0 lead with 4:29 left in the game.
But the Wildcats rebounded, answering with an 11-play, 72 yard drive capped by a 21 yard run by Carey to make the score 21-7 with 1:52 left in the first quarter.
Arizona then controlled the second quarter, scoring two more touchdowns of 1 yard runs – one by Scott and another by Carey to tie the game at 21-21 with 10:23 left in the half.
Jefferson capped a long drive by Nevada that immediately followed to give the Wolf Pack the lead again at 28-21 but Arizona answered with a drive that was capped by a 9-yard TD run from Carey to again tie the game at 28-28.
Nevada finished the half with a 16 play, 66 yard drive that climaxed with a 27 yard field goal by Hardison to give Nevada a 31-38 advantage at halftime.
The Wolf Pack dominated the third quarter on both sides of the ball, scoring twice as Fajardo found Richy Turner all alone for a 33 yard pass then ran the ball in himself for a one-yard TD run to give Nevada a seemingly commanding 45-28 lead with 1:33 left in the third quarter.
But Arizona rallied immediately in the fourth quarter as Scott hit Hill for an epic 63-yard touchdown to cut the Nevada lead to 48-35 with 14:44 left in the game.
Nevada answered with an 10-play, 30 yard drive to set up Hardison’s final field goal with 1:48 left in the game.