It has been 296 days since the Nevada Wolf Pack last played Ohio in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Jan. 2.
The elongated delay did not disappoint in a 37-34 overtime victory against the Wyoming Cowboys on Saturday at Mackay Stadium.
Nevada coughed away a 28-6 third quarter advantage. Wyoming scored 22 unanswered and tied the contest at 28 with 8:30 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 34-31 in overtime, Nevada faced a first-and-goal on its own nine-yard line. Nevada’s Carson Strong fired a nine-yard touchdown pass to Romeo Doubs, clinching the nail-biting win in its season-opener.
This marks Nevada’s second consecutive overtime contest at Mackay Stadium. The last was in a 33-30 loss versus intrastate rival UNLV.
“We were heartbroken in the worst type of way against UNLV last year,” Strong said postgame. “Being able to get over that hump and win a game in overtime after we lost UNLV last year feels really good.”
Only a maximum of 250 combined family members of the students and coaching staff were allowed in the bleachers tonight.
Nevada head coach Jay Norvell elaborated on the unique environment.
“It was different,” Norvell said postgame. “Almost everything we are doing is different than normal. We really challenged our team and our coaching staff just to expect it. We wanted to keep our energy and focus on the field.
“I think, for the most part, we did a good job of that... The atmosphere is going to be different every single week we play. It was not terrible. It was not like a normal game where we had more fans there, but I think our guys just enjoyed being out there on the field.”
The Wolf Pack offense recorded 496 total yards and 25 first downs. Strong had a career night. He went 39-for-52 (75.0 percent) with 420 passing yards, four touchdowns with a pass efficiency rating of 168.2 — all career highs. Strong completed passes to nine different receivers.
With the absence of starting running back Toa Taua, backup Devonte Lee totaled 65 yards on 18 carries (3.6 ypc). True freshman Avery Morrow totaled 23 yards on three carries — including an 18-yard rushing score on his second career attempt.
Cole Turner had a career-best 119 yards — a team-high — on seven receptions with two touchdowns. Doubs finished with a team-high 12 catches for 117 yards with the touchdown. True freshman Tory Horton hauled in two receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown.
Norvell praised the performance of his playmakers after the game.
“We had nine different guys catch the ball,” Norvell said. “That’s tough on a defense when you spread the ball around that much.”
“We’re not necessarily concerned with having stars. We want playmakers. We want guys who can make plays.”
The Pack committed three turnovers with a ghastly 12 penalties for 101 yards. Two of the penalties took back touchdowns, including a 74-yard punt return touchdown by Doubs and a nine-yard touchdown pass to Justin Lockhart.
Norvell expressed his frustrations with the lack of discipline from his team.
“I was very disappointed in the penalties we had,” Norvell said. “We had a punt return called back. We were put in poor field position several times by penalties on kickoff returns… We have to make sure we are cleaner in that area.”
Wyoming tallied 361 total yards after a rough first half. The Cowboys’ starting quarterback Sean Chambers exited with a broken fibula after the third play of the game. His replacement, Levi WIlliams totaled 227 yards on 16-of-31 passing with one touchdown and one interception. He added 40 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
All-Mountain West running back Xazavian Valladay finished with 87 rushing yards on 22 carries, adding a team-high seven catches for 44 yards. Isaiah Neyor had a team-high 102 yards on three receptions.
The Wolf Pack put together a phenomenal 10-play 78-yard first drive ending in a 26-yard connection from Strong to freshman Horton in the corner of the endzone. Strong was a perfect 7-for-7 with 68 yards on the season’s opening drive.
Wyoming freshman placekicker John Hoyland —who was not on the team’s depth chart —nailed two field goals from 26 and 36 yards on its ensuing two possessions to cut Nevada’s lead to 7-6.
Nevada extended its lead to 14-6 with 1:46 remaining in the first half after a 50-yard touchdown from Strong to Turner. The Wolf Pack had 293 total yards and 15 first downs in the first half; Wyoming had 106 yards with four first downs. Wyoming was 1-for-8 on third down efficiency.
Aside from the fumble, Strong was dominant in the first half— accounting for 253 yards and two touchdowns while completing 77.8 percent of his attempts. For perspective, he had just five games with 250-plus yards all of last season. Valladay had just 47 yards on 11 carries (4.3 ypc) in the first half.
The Pack picked up right where they left off to begin the second half with a nine-play, 94-yard drive finished off by Morrow’s 18-yard score.
Nevada led 28-6 with 3:47 to go in the third quarter. A 21-yard rushing touchdown by Levi Williams followed by a 22-yard touchdown pass to Gunner Gentry quickly cut Nevada’s lead to 28-20 with 13:13 left.
Wyoming kept their foot on the gas pedal, tying it at 28 with 8:30 remaining after an eight-yard rushing score plus a two-point conversion by Williams.
With just over five minutes remaining, Nevada senior defensive back Berdale Robins intercepted Williams. Though the Pack failed to get another first down, placekicker Brandon Talton put them ahead 31-28 after a 21-yard attempt.
After starting on its own one-yard-line with 1:30 remaining, the Cowboys faced a 42-yard field goal with :28 seconds remaining. Hoyland forced overtime after converting it through the uprights.
The contest entered overtime knotted at 31. Hoyland nailed a 38-yard field goal— his fourth field goal of the evening— to put Wyoming ahead 34-31. After relinquishing zero first downs in the fourth quarter, the Wyoming defense was unable to close out the victory in overtime.
CARSON STRONG ➡️ TORY HORTON FROM 26 YARDS OUT!!— Pack Center (@PackCenterNV) October 24, 2020
Nevada up 7-0 with 6:25 to go in the 1Q. pic.twitter.com/KQbCXa21Ip