Wolf Pack gets the "luck of the Irish" | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Wolf Pack gets the "luck of the Irish"

Column by Darin Olde, Tribune staff writer

You know that old saying about how offense wins games and defense wins championships?

You might add to the list of pep talk mantras the one about how underdogs win major victories by exploiting opportunities.

That’s how the Nevada Wolf Pack pulled off what’s being called the university’s biggest victory in a decade by beating the Brigham Young University Cougars 31-28 in its home opener Saturday at Mackay Stadium.

Don’t call it a fluke; the Wolf Pack made more key conversions than BYU. And when the score is close, turn-key opportunities like scoring on a fumble recovery or interception make all the difference.

Start with the first quarter, and the Wolf Pack on their own 5-yard line.

Opportunity No. 1: Quarterback Zack Threadgill sees an opportunity in Cougars’ defense, calls an audible, and takes the snap. He then fires a quick pass to senior wide receiver Nate Burleson wide right.

Burleson, who would finish the day with 12 receptions for 215 yards, got a key block from fellow receiver Tim Fleming and ran the ball 95 yards for a touchdown. The Cougars’ secondary was nowhere in the vicinity.

Opportunity No. 2: Building now on a 24-14 lead, the Wolf Pack’s Ronnie Hardiman intercepts BYU’s Bret Engemann. Threadgill, who finished the day 28 and 37 for 410 total passing yards, then connected with Fleming for a 9-yard touchdown pass with 0:00 left on the clock before the half, giving the home team a 31-14 lead.

BYU came back in the second half and scored two touchdowns to come within three points with just over 4 minutes remaining.

The Cougars dominated the last two quarters, but the Wolf Pack’s lead was too big after Threadgill’s dynamite first-half performance.

Beyond Reno capitalizing on more key breaks, the Cougars failed to capitalize on one major fourth quarter gift courtesy of their own defense and a poor call by Nevada’s head coach Chris Tormey.

Opportunity No 3: The Wolf Pack worked down to inside the Cougars’ 2, but failed to score on fourth down with 2:18 remaining.

Tormey called a pass play when less than a yard would have given the Wolf Pack four more downs at the 1-yard line.

BYU got the ball with enough time to give freshman quarterback Lance Pendleton an offensive drive.

The Cougars got all the way down to the Nevada 32, with Mackay Stadium fans on their feet.

The Cougars needed a field goal, but ran out of time before getting the kicking team on the field.

It was a dramatic finish that brought Reno fans storming the field and celebrating the first victory over BYU in six tries.

The reality is the game could have gone either way, but the Wolf Pack’s maturity and skill to execute the big plays when BYU couldn’t get it done is what made the difference.

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