Wolf Pack defense snaps bowl skid
SAN FRANCISCO – It wasn’t pretty, in fact, it was down right ugly.
But Rishard Matthews carried the No. 13 Nevada Wolf Pack to a 20-13 win in its first-ever meeting with Boston College on Sunday in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park. The win also snaps a four-game bowl losing streak. The Pack’s last win in a bowl was in the 2005 Hawaii Bowl over University of Central Florida.
“It’s special, it really is,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said. “You go 13-1 at this level and beat the caliber of teams we beat … and will probably go down as the greatest team to play at the University of Nevada.”
With the victory, Nevada improved to 13-1 for the season, and the 13 wins are a school record.
Matthews returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and caught seven passes for 86 yards and another score to earn the offensive Most Valuable Player award. Matthews’ punt return was the longest in Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl history.
The Pack, though, committed three turnovers, was held to a season-low 114 rushing yards and 306 total yards, its second lowest offensive output of the season. It was the only the second game this year Nevada was held to less than 400 yards.
However, senior quarterback Colin Kaepernick became the first player in NCAA history to throw for more than 10,000 yards and rush for more than 4,000 yards in a career. As is his nature, Kaepernick deflected questions about his legacy at Nevada and focused on his teammates.
“I can’t say it’s my legacy,” Kaepernick said. “It is the senior class legacy. We showed everyone what we are capable of and it’s something we are proud of.”
Things, though, weren’t all doom and gloom, as the Pack defense turned in its best performance of the season, allowing just 185 total yards, the lowest all season. Boston College, though, was set back on offense when starting running back Montel Harris hurt his leg stretching at the team’s hotel. Harris led the Eagles with 1,278 yards and scored eight TDs during the season.
“We heard about Montel Harris’ injury before the game, but we didn’t change our game plan at all,” Ault said. “I thought our defense played as well as well played over the past couple years.”
The Eagles struck first on a 30-yard touchdown run by Andre Williams after recovering a fumble by Kaepernick. Williams took the handoff from freshman quarterback Chase Retting, bolted to his left and outran the Wolf Pack defense.
Nevada’s defense forced the Eagles to punt on its first possession, but on third-and-6 from their own 34, Kaepernick scrambled to his right and put the ball on the ground.
Kaepernick, though, regained his composure and led the Pack on a 10-play, 71-yard scoring drive to knot the score at 7. The 6-foot-6 senior gunslinger hit Rishard Matthews for 27-yard TD pass after escaping the Eagles defense. Kaepernick rolled to his left, stepped over a would-be tackler, Matthews spun around his defender and Kaepernick hit the junior for the score.
Matthews wasn’t done. After the Pack held Boston College to a three-and-out, Matthews returned the ensuing punt 72 yards for a TD to give Nevada a 14-7 lead. Matthews gathered the punt at his 28 yardline, cut left after a big block from Khalid Wooten and blazed down the right sidelined untouched for the score.
“That’s one of the reasons they brought me here,” Matthews said. “I saw that the outside was open and it lead me to the end zone.”
Nevada added to its lead in the second quarter when redshirt freshman Anthony Martinez, who kicked the game-winning field goal against Boise State, nailed a 32-yard field goal attempt for a 17-7 lead.
The teams traded field goals in the second half with the Eagles’ Nate Freese cutting thr lead to 20-13 after hitting a 32-yard field goal with 3 minutes, 52 seconds left in the game. Nevada recovered the ensuing onside kick, but went three-and-out and was forced to punt.
However, the Pack defense came up big once again. On second-and-13 from the Eagles’ 39, Wooten picked off Rettig to seal the win.
“They executed better than we did,” Boston College coach Frank Spaziani said. “They did a good job on us. They did some things that we weren’t able to handle when we had a chance to make some plays.”
Wooten said he was able to lock onto Rettig and follow the flow of the play.
“I saw the quarterback (Rettig), read the play, and had to win us the ballgame,” Wooten said.
Boston College came into the game with the nations best run defense, allowing 80.2 yards per game, behind linebacking duo Mark Herzlich, a cancer survior, and Luke Kuechly, the nations leading tackler as a sophomore.
Herzlich, though, was appreciative of the opportunity to play in the bowl, considering his future was in jeopardy last season.
“It feels great to be able to get back on the field and show people that it is possible to make a full recovery, and get back doing what I love,” Herzlich said. “I am so thankful to be here.”
The Pack’s offensive line struggled with the front seven of the Eagles, and could only manage 55 yards in the first half. Senior running back Vai Taua found limited room between the tackles, although he managed his best run of nine yards late in the second quarter when he bounced outside. Taua finished the game with 22 carries for 76 yards.
Kuechly had 12 tackles, an interception and was named defensive MVP, while Herzlich added five tackles and forced a fumble.
Taua totaled 48 yards on 14 carries (3.4 yards per carry) while Kaepernick was held to four yards on five attempts. Kaepernick struggled throwing the ball as well, hitting only 20 of 33 atttempts for 192 yards.
Nevada’s defense, meanwhile, was all over Rettig, who was held to 4-of-19 passing for 19 yards and was sacked once in the first half. The Pack’s run defense was just as impressive as the Eagles, limiting Boston College to 64 yards on 25 attempts. The Eagles could only muster 49 yards after Williams’ TD run and 70 total yards for the entire first half. Boston College didn’t cross the 100 total yard mark until the fourth quarter.
NOTES … The 41,063 fans in attendance (mostly Nevada supporters) was the second largest crowd in the bowl’s history. … Kuechly extended the nation’s longest streak of games with 10 or more tackles to 21. … Nevada improved to 4-8 in bowl games, while Boston College fell to 13-9.