Arizona Pulls of Impressive Comeback Against Nevada to Win Gildan New Mexico Bowl
The coveted Gildan New Mexico Bowl kicked off the college football bowl season with a game unlikely to be topped. The matchup between the Nevada Wolfpack and the Arizona Wildcats seemed likely to be a mediocre game between two 7-5 teams.
Arizona’s season has seen its ups and downs, winning their first 3 games and losing the following 3 but they did upset the then 9th ranked USC Trojans, only to be blown out 66-10 to the UCLA Bruins. The Wildcats looked like they would finish the regular season on a three game winning streak but Arizona lost to Arizona State at home in a game that should have been a cakewalk.
The Nevada Wolfpack play in a much softer Mountain West Conference, compared to Arizona’s Pac 12, and they got off to a fast opening the season with a big win on the road against Cal and would find themselves 3-0 in the division and 6-1 overall. Their only loss was a 1 point stinker against South Florida and after beating UNLV the team had already found their team bowl-eligible. The Wolfpack would go on to lose three straight games and 4 of their final 5.
Battling for a coveted piece of Zia Pueblo pottery the Nevada Wolfpack jumped out to an early 21-0 lead and held a lead until the final minute of the game. The Wolfpack would find themselves ahead 45-28 entering the 4th quarter but that is when Wildcats’ QB Matt Scott went to work. He hooked up with Austin Hill for a 63 yard touchdown just second into the final quarter. Nevada would add a short field goal and Scott admitted after the game that he didn’t feel confident about the outcome of the game.
Arizona’s offense has relied on the nation’s leading rusher, Ka’Deem Carey, for most of the season but trailing for the entire game limited his role. Carey still finished with 172 yards and became just the 16th person to rush for over 2000 yards in a collegiate season. This game actually had the nation’s top 2 rushers and Nevada ran Stefphon Jefferson early and often. He finished the game with 180 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on 34 carries but finished the year with 1883 rushing yards. Wolfpack QB Cody Fajardo added another 140 yards on the ground including a rushing touchdown of his own.
Scott had been outplayed by Fajardo all day long but it was the final two drives of the game that made the difference in the game and Fajardo wasn’t on the field for any of it. Scott found Austin Hill for a short 2 yard touchdown to cut the Wolfpack’s lead to just 6 points. That touchdown was scored with 46 seconds left on the clock and Arizona knew that they would need a miraculous onside kick recovery for any chance at winning this game. It was so bad at one point of the game for the Wildcats that their own players got into a fistfight on the sideline. Now they were just a few plays away from an incredible come from behind victory.
They say that the odds of the kicking team recovering their onsides attempt is about 1 in every 4.5 attempts. The odds weren’t in favor of Arizona but the ball bounced in their favor and Matt Scott had some work left to do. At their own 49 Scott hooked up with Garic Wharton for 28 yards and Austin Hill for 21 yards on the first two plays. Scott had Arizona on the 2 yard line and when he found Terrence Miller in the end-zone for a touchdown they were just an extra point away from their first lead of the game, with 19 seconds left on the clock. Cody Fajardo was given the ball back and walked on the field with a look of disarray. He threw a terrible pass that was intercepted by Arizona’s Marquis Flowers and the Wildcats had sealed an unlikely come from behind victory.