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Nevada earns 37-26 victory over Fresno State, keeps Mountain West Title hopes alive

Nevada v UNLV Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

In a must-win contest, Nevada’s second-half surge powered the Wolf Pack Pack past the Fresno State Bulldogs 37-26 on Senior night at Mackay Stadium.

The win keeps Nevada’s Mountain West Championship title hopes alive, while it sinks Fresno State’s chances. Nevada improves to 6-1 while Fresno State is 3-2.

Saturday night featured a contest between the conference’s two best offenses (Fresno State - 467.2 ypg; Nevada - 446.5 ypg). Fresno State outgained the Wolf Pack (592-416) with twice as many first downs (30-14). The Bulldogs also totaled an astonishing 101 plays compared to Nevada’s 61 on the evening.

Nevada quarterback Carson Strong went 23-for-39 (59.0 percent) for 354 yards with a career-high five touchdowns and a season-high two interceptions. It was the most interceptions he’s had since totaling two on Sept. 14 last year versus Weber State.

The redshirt sophomore signal caller now has five 300-yard games on the year and eight for his career.

True freshman Tory Horton had a career evening. He entered Saturday night with seven career catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns. The Fresno, Calif. native totaled five catches for 148 yards — 122 coming in the second half — and three touchdowns in the win.

Cole Turner hauled in a pair of touchdowns on two goal line fades (5, 2 yards). He totaled five catches for 69 yards. Coming off their first 200-yard rushing performance of the season, the Pack just rushed for 53 rushing yards on 20 carries. Toa Taua led the way, totaling 39 yards on 11 carries (3.55 ypc).

After recording just one reception for 10 yards last week, star wideout Romeo Doubs had a team-best seven receptions for 97 yards.

The Bulldogs, who were missing their starting long snapper, punter and placekicker, endured severe struggles in the special teams department. It led to them going 3-for-7 on fourth-down attempts.

Junior quarterback Jake Haener went 41-for-65 for a career-high 485 yards and two touchdowns.

Tailback Ronnie Rivers, who has been arguably the best running back in the Mountain West this year, rushed for 69 yards on 14 carries. He added a team-high nine receptions for 38 yards — solidifying himself as the team’s reception-leader (27). His string of 12 consecutive games with a touchdown was snapped Saturday.

Rivers left the game with an injury midway through the quarter. Backup Jordan Mims had nine carries for 26 yards and four receptions for 26 yards.

Jalen Cropper hauled-in seven receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown. Keric Wheatfall added six receptions for a team-high 113 yards with a touchdown.

Both teams had difficulty holding onto the ball tonight.

The chaotic contest featured seven turnovers (Nevada - 4; Fresno State - 3). Three of Nevada’s turnovers and two of Fresno State’s resulting in fumbles.

Fresno State marched 77 yards down the field with ease on its opening drive, capped-off by a nine-yard rushing score by Kelly. A bobbled snap by the punter set up Nevada in plus territory on the 40-yard-line. It concluded with a five-yard touchdown to Cole Turner.

The ensuing possession ended in a block punt that gave Nevada field position at Fresno State’s 21-yard-line. A pair of 13-and-3 yard rushes from Taua followed by a pass interference in the endzone put Nevada at the two-yard-line. Strong and Turner connected for the second touchdown of the evening, giving Nevada a 17-7 lead.

Haener weaved through the Pack defense for a three-yard quarterback keeper to cut the lead to 17-14 with 12:03 to go in the first half. The drive was 16 plays that strung over 6:27.

Strong answered with a 17-yard pass to Horton that extended the lead to 24-14.

Though the extra-point clanked off the upright, Fresno State trimmed the advantage to 24-20 with 3:34 to go in the first half after a 19-yard dime to Wheatfall.

Entering the halftime break, Fresno State held the advantage in time of possession (17:03 to 12:57), total yards (259 to 184) while doubling the first downs (14 to-7).

To put it lightly, the third quarter was chaotic.

Rivers’ 66-yard touchdown was called back because of an illegal crackback block. On the next play, Nevada safety Tyson Williams punched the ball out from behind in the midst of a 32-yard reception from Wheatfall — giving Nevada possession on its own 30-yard-line.

Melquan Stovall fumbled and gave the ball back on Fresno State’s 27-yard-line. The Pack defense forced a turnover-on-downs at midfield, but Strong’s interception five plays later gave the Bulldogs the ball right back.

Strong connected with Horton for an 85-yard touchdown — his second of the night — widening the Pack lead to 30-20. It was Nevada’s longest touchdown of the season.

A fumble on the ensuing kickoff rewarded the Pack with prime field position. They couldn’t convert with Strong’s second interception coming in the endzone.

Horton’s 32-yard touchdown reception was the knockout blow for the Pack, his third of the night. The Bulldogs responded with a 21-yard acrobatic grab by Zane Pope, but it was too little, too late.

Up next:

The Wolf Pack will take on the undefeated San Jose State Spartans on Friday, Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. PST on CBS Sports Network. For Mountain West Title implications, it will be a win or home affair.

Fresno State will play New Mexico at home on Saturday on FS1 or FS2. The time has not been announced yet.

Nevada Athletic Department