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Nevada drops heartbreaker in triple overtime to Air Force, 41-39

Syndication: Reno Gazette Journal JASON BEAN/RGJ / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Air Force Falcons’ stout triple-option attack spoiled the Nevada Wolf Pack’s senior night with their 41-39 triple overtime victory on Friday evening, officially ending Nevada’s chances at a Mountain West title game berth. The Wolf Pack’s now lost all three of its Mountain West contests by two points apiece.

Air Force’s Haaziq Daniels picked up a two-yard rushing “score” in the third-overtime, when both teams begin to alternate two-point conversion attempts. Carson Strong’s pass to Romeo Doubs was broken up by Falcon outside linebacker Camby Goff in the back of the endzone — walling off Nevada’s comeback effort after it overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit.

Entering as the nation’s top rushing attack with the second-most average time-of-possession (36:10), the Falcons rushed for a season-high 476 yards (499 total), chewing up 37:38 of the 60 total minutes of regulation.

DeAndre Hughes and Brad Roberts carried the majority of the load on the ground, though other contributors followed.

Hughes tallied 23 carries for a career-high 221 yards with two touchdowns. Brad Roberts had a team-high 28 carries for 117 yards, moving his total rushing yards up to 1,181 on the season.

Emmanuel Michel added 14 carries for 51 yards. Quarterback Haaziq Daniels had just five pass attempts with one completion, but rushed for 59 yards on seven carries with the final two-point dagger.

Nevada racked up 369 yards of offense and 24 first downs. Carson Strong completed 26-of-43 passes for 340 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Strong was sacked eight times on the evening.

Toa Taua had 15 carries for 71 yards and a touchdown — his first since Oct. 16, when he had two against Hawai’i.

Romeo Doubs tallied a team-high 11 receptions for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Cole Turner, back after missing one game due to a concussion, had five receptions for 54 yards and two touchdowns as well. Tory Horton hauled in eight catches for 105 yards — his first 100-yard game of the season and the second of his career.

Saturday’s loss snaps Nevada’s nine-game home winning streak. The Pack drop to 7-4 and 4-3 in conference play. While Air Force still needs Utah State to lose out, given the Aggies have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Air Force, the Falcons’ chances at a Mountain Division title is still in play, moving to 8-3 and 5-2 in conference play. The Falcons also move to 5-0 in road games.

Before the game, the Pack honored 36 outgoing seniors, including Taua, Doubs, Turner, defensive linemen Tristan Nichols, Dom Peterson, Sam Hammond and linebackers Daiyan Henley and Lawson Hall, among others. Strong, a junior, was also honored — given that it’s all but certain he declares for the 2022 NFL Draft.

Air Force’s defense forced its ninth opening drive punt of the season, though a botched hand-off on its opening drive — recovered by Henley — rewarded the Pack another possession.

Two 15- and 14-yard runs from Taua paired with Strong’s 27-yard completion to Turner (on third down) put the Pack inside Air Force’s 5-yard line. But the Falcons held their ground, forcing the 24-yard field goal by placekicker Brandon Talton — putting the Pack ahead 3-0.

Ben Jefferson’s first career carry resulted in a four-yard score — capping off a 19-play, 75-yard drive that lasted 10:34.

Hughes’ 51-yard run — his third 50-yard run of the season — placed the Falcons inside Nevada’s 10-yard line with under four minutes remaining before halftime. A chop block on their ensuing play negated Roberts’ eight-yard touchdown. Nevertheless, Hughes ran it in from 10 yards out two plays later — extending Air Force’s first-half advantage to 14-3.

After time was re-inserted back onto the clock, Air Force placekicker Matthew Dapore nailed a 50-yard field goal as the clock expired to make it 17-3 entering halftime. Nevada registered just 97 yards — 100 passing, minus-three rushing (five sacks allowed) — on 27 plays. Air Force tallied 241 yards (all rushing) on 41 plays. The Falcons possessed it for 18:51 while the Pack held possession for the remaining 11:09.

Air Force entered the red zone on its opening second-half drive, but Henley’s crucial stop on fourth-and-1 prevented a new set of downs. The Falcons walked away with zero where, at the bare minimum, they could’ve gotten three more to make it a three-possession game.

Instead, Nevada sliced it into a one-possession contest. Strong’s 25-yard completion on third-and-17 followed by a 49-yard completion to Horton set up shop in plus territory. Strong flung it to Turner for a 13-yard touchdown, making it 17-10 with 6:04 left in the third quarter.

Air Force retaliated with a nine-play drive that ended with Hughes’ second score of the night — this time from nine yards out — to make it 24-10 with 1:20 left in the third.

Nevada’s AJ King poked the ball free from Daniels’ grasp, as the Pack recovered the fumble with another opportunity to strike with over nine minutes remaining.

On the very next play, Strong heaved a 61-yard touchdown to pass to Romeo Doubs (who else?), cutting it to 24-17. Nevada’s defense forced a Air Force’s third punt of the game, getting the ball back with 7:03 to go. Strong capped its 12-play, 67-yard drive with a game-tying one-yard touchdown to Turner with 3:13 remaining.

Nevada got the ball on its own one-yard line with 1:27 remaining, but needed to drive at least 60 yards to get on the brink of field-goal range for All-Mountain West kicker Brandon Talton — failing to do so.

Neither team scored before the end of regulation.

The Wolf Pack won the toss, but elected to play defense first. Air Force got into the endzone first courtesy of Dane Kinamon’s two-yard score. Nevada began with a defensive pass interference called on Air Force’s Tre Bugg III. Taua’s six-yard rushing score knotted it up at 31 entering second-overtime.

Strong’s 19-yard touchdown to Doubs — their second touchdown connection of the evening and ninth of 2021 — in addition to Turner’s two-point conversion grab increased it to 39-31. Daniels’ 21-yard rush immediately set up the Falcons inside Nevada’s 5, scoring three plays later on Roberts’ one yard run. Hughes’ touchdown, on a sweep, forced triple overtime.

Nevada’s loss came down to one play — much like it has in each of its previous two losses to Fresno State and San Diego State.

Next up: Nevada hits the road for its regular season finale against the Colorado State Rams on Saturday, Nov. 27. Kickoff will be at 6 p.m. PT on CBS Sports Network.