Brandon Talton’s game-winning 45-yard field goal gifted the Nevada Wolf Pack a 27-24 victory over the San Jose State Spartans on Saturday night at Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nev.
Talton made two of his five field goal attempts — a 51-yarder and his eventual game-winning 45-yarder. He missed the first two attempts from 56 and 37 yards out, while his 52-yarder at the end of the first half was blocked.
It was the first time in his career where he’s missed three-plus field goals — but in the end, it didn’t matter.
“That just shows his character,” Nevada head coach Jay Norvell said after the game, discussing Talton battling adversity throughout the game.
It wasn’t Talton’s first game-winner against the Spartans, either. The junior placekicker also converted a game-winning 40-yarder at the end of regulation in a 41-38 victory on Oct. 12, 2019.
“It was very similar,” Norvell said. “Brandon’s been in that situation ... He’s got a lot of confidence in those situations and we have a lot of confidence in him. We feel good if we’re in that situation again that he can make it.”
While the Wolf Pack’s potent offense is typically the primary source for their scoring production, their defense overtook that responsibility on Saturday night. Two of Nevada’s three touchdowns came on the defensive end: Daiyan Henley’s 55-yard fumble recovery and BerDale Robins’ 86-yard pick-six.
Those two defensive scores were the Pack’s first two of the game. It also marked Nevada’s third pick-six across the last two weeks and its third fumble recovery for a touchdown this season.
In total, that’s six defensive touchdowns through nine games; it had zero in nine contests all of last year.
“Our defense was amazing tonight,” Norvell said. “The plays that they made in the first half. The turnovers — the Daiyan Henley touchdown and the BerDale Robins touchdown — just amazing plays and it gave us a shot in the arm.”
Nevada totaled 367 yards and 25 first downs on 4.3 yards per play. Carson Strong completed 36-of-54 for 314 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
Its tailbacks totaled 79 combined yards on 24 attempts — equating to 3.4 yards per carry. Toa Taua had 16 carries for 57 yards, in addition to his six catches for 43 yards.
Melquan Stovall hauled in a team-high seven catches for 77 yards. Cole Turner, who exited in the third quarter with a head injury, and Doubs had six receptions apiece. Turner had 47 yards while Doubs went for a team-high 78 yards with its only touchdown of the evening (a 20-yard reception).
The Spartans utilized both of their quarterbacks. In his first game back of injury, Starkel completed 21-of-40 passes for 255 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Nick Nash, who started the game, went 4-for-9 for 33 yards and an interception in addition to his four carries for 21 yards.
Tyler Nevens totaled 116 yards (on 14 carries), including a five-yard receiving touchdown catch in the first quarter. Kairee Robinson had eight carries for 32 yards.
Jermaine Braddock had team-highs in receptions (7) and receiving yards (140). Derrick Deese Jr. had six catches for 43 yards and a touchdown. Dominic Mazotti and Isaiah Holliness had three catches apiece for 38 and 27 yards, respectively.
Nevada improves to 7-2, including 4-1 in conference play. San Jose State drops to 5-5 and 3-3 in Mountain West play.
“It was a physical game. It was a tough game,” Norvell said. “[San Jose State] didn’t win the [Mountain West championship] by accident last year. They played very well to win it. It was a big win for us.”
With Boise State’s 40-14 whooping over the Fresno State Bulldogs and San Diego State’s 17-10 win over Hawai’i, Nevada is now tied with San Diego State for first place in the West Division.
After going three-and-out on its first three drives, the Wolf Pack defense got them on the board first — courtesy of Jordan Lee’s forced fumble that turned into Henley’s 55-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown.
Starkel started SJSU’s third-drive. The Spartans tied the game with 4:34 left in the opening quarter after Starkel’s five-yard touchdown pass to Nevens.
Strong was intercepted by Spartans linebacker Jordan Cobbs, though the Pack came away unscathed after SJSU’s Matt Mercurio’s missed a 45-yard field goal attempt, his first of two 45-yard misses.
Nevada punted or had a turnover on five of its first six drives. Its only other drive resulted in a missed 56-yard field goal — which would’ve tied Talton’s career long. On those six drives, the Pack generated just seven first downs on 3.1 yards per play.
Mercurio’s second miss came with 7:24 remaining in the opening half, the contest remaining tied at seven.
Strong’s second interception was soon followed by Starkel’s first interception of the evening. Talton’s second missed field goal came from 37 yards out.
San Jose State head coach Brett Brennan his final two timeouts to ice Talton. His third one — a 52-yard attempt — was blocked. The contest remained knotted at seven entering halftime.
Nevada generated 13 first downs compared to San Jose State’s five. Nevada had 185 yards of offense on 3.9 yards per play; the Spartans had 166 on 4.9 yards per play.
The Pack’s third pick-six in the last two weeks came on their seventh play to open the half. Berdale Robins intercepted Nash and took it 86 yards to the house, giving Nevada the 14-7 lead.
Talton’s 51-yard field goal made it 17-7 with 3:09 left in the third quarter — the third-longest of his career and his second 50-yard conversion in as many weeks.
Starkel responded with a 48-yard touchdown to freshman Malikhi Miller — his only catch of the game — off a Wolf Pack coverage mishap between AJ King and Lawson Hall. Mercurio’s 37-yarder tied it at 17 with 10:05 left.
Courtesy of two 43- and 19-yard third-and-long completions by Strong, Nevada marched into SJSU territory with under six minutes to go. Strong connected with Romeo Doubs for the 20-yard score — Nevada’s first offensive touchdown of the game — making it 24-17 with 5:26 remaining.
San Jose State didn’t take long to respond.
Starkel’s 40-yard completion to Braddock put the Spartans inside the Pack’s 5-yard line. After three tries that netted a combined three yards, Starkel found Deese for the two-yard touchdown — tying it at 24 with 1:47 to go.
After a crucial 12-yard fourth-and-9 completion inside plus territory, the Pack were setup for a game-winning field goal attempt. Talton accomplished just that — the third of his career to reward the Pack with the ever-so-important victory entering arguably the most difficult part of its conference schedule.
Next up: The Pack travel to San Diego to take on the Aztecs on Saturday, Nov. 13. Kickoff will be at 7:30 p.m. PT.