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1,000 Words: Top 10 games in Nevada football's thrilling bowl history

Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick leads Nevada against Maryland during a 2008 bowl game. (Nevada athletics)

Nevada Sports Net columnist Chris Murray is known to be a bit wordy, so we're giving him 1,000 words (but no more than that) to share his thoughts from the week that was in the world of sports.

* I’M A BELIEVER THERE ARE too many bowl games in college football. I’m all for rewarding good teams, but when nearly two-thirds of the FBS make a bowl, it’s just too watered down for my taste (if you do the math, that’d be like letting 218 college basketball teams into the postseason). That said, some of Nevada’s most memorable games have come in bowls. Five of the team’s 13 bowl games in its FBS era have been decided by one point/overtime. Ten have been decided by one score. With Nevada playing Arkansas State in Saturday’s Arizona Bowl, here is a look at the best bowl games in Wolf Pack history.

1. 2012 New Mexico Bowl (Arizona 49, Nevada 48): This was the most exciting game in Nevada bowl history, even if the end result wasn't what the Wolf Pack wanted. Nevada led 21-0 early and Cody Fajardo accounted for 396 yards and four touchdowns to stake the Wolf Pack to a 13-point lead with less than two minutes remaining. But Nevada collapsed in epic fashion, allowing two touchdowns in the final 42 seconds with a botched onside kick cover in between. A month later, legendary Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault retired, making this his final game after 343 games at the helm of Nevada.

2. 1992 Las Vegas Bowl (Bowling Green 35, Nevada 34): Nevada’s first bowl appearance in 44 years was a classic. The Wolf Pack trailed 28-3 when backup quarterback Chris Vargas was inserted into the game and rallied Nevada to a 34-28 lead before a late botched punt cost the team a win. Forced to punt with 1:45 remaining, Nevada punter Steve Lester fumbled the snap, giving Bowling Green the ball at the 15-yard line before the Falcons scored on fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line with 22 seconds left to beat Nevada by one. Vargas was still named the game’s Most Valuable Player after passing for 283 yards and two scores.

3. 1995 Las Vegas Bowl (Toledo 40, Nevada 37, OT): What made this game special? It was the first overtime game in college football history. Toledo knocked off Nevada earlier that season, winning 49-35 at Mackay Stadium, and capped an undefeated season with the bowl win over the Wolf Pack (the Rockets, led by future Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, went 10-0-1 that season, the tie coming to Miami, Ohio). Interesting sidenote: Nevada linebacker DeShone Myles had a team-best 10 tackles just 21 days after an emergency appendectomy.

4. 1996 Las Vegas Bowl (Nevada 18, Ball State 15): This was the Wolf Pack’s first bowl win as a Division I program and helped avenge losses in the 1992 and 1995 Las Vegas bowls (albeit against a different team). Nevada linebacker Mike Crawford was named the game's MVP after recording 14 tackles and nabbing a game-sealing interception late in the contest. He also forced a fumble. Wideout Damond Wilkins caught both of Nevada’s touchdowns, one coming from John Dutton and the other from his backup, Eric Bennett.

5. 2005 Hawaii Bowl (Nevada 49, Central Florida 48, OT): This is one of Ault’s two bowl wins (he was 2-8 in bowls) and it came in typical thrilling fashion. Nevada led by double-digits with less than 2 minutes to play before Central Florida rallied to send the game to overtime after future NFL star Brandon Marshall caught a 16-yard touchdown pass with 55 seconds left. The teams traded scores in overtime before UCF kicker Matt Prater, who’s in his 12th NFL season, missed an extra point to give Nevada the dramatic victory.

6. 2006 MPC Computers Bowl (Miami 21, Nevada 20): One of the Wolf Pack’s four bowl games decided by one point, this one – like the top two on this list – was a heart-breaker for Nevada, which faced a down-trending Miami program. A controversial replay on an apparent key catch by tight end Anthony Pudewell denied Nevada a prime shot at scoring a touchdown as the Wolf Pack settled for four field goals on the frigid night. With a first down at Miami’s 36, Jeff Rowe threw a pick with 18 seconds left to spoil the Wolf Pack’s New Year’s Eve.

7. 2010 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (Nevada 20, Boston College 13): This is the most memorable bowl game in Nevada history, with around 30,000 Wolf Pack fans making the trip from Reno to San Francisco’s AT&T Park to revel in the best season in school history. The game, however, was boring. The teams combined for just 491 yards and was lackluster other than Rishard Matthews’ 72-yard punt return for a score (one of his two touchdowns). The atmosphere, though, was something any Wolf Pack fan in attendance will never forget.

8. 1948 Salad Bowl (Nevada 13, North Texas 6): One of two bowl games the Wolf Pack played in prior to moving to the FBS in 1992, the Salad Bowl was played on New Year’s Day in 1949. This was the first of nine Salad Bowls played before the Phoenix postseason game was shut down in 1955. It was one of 13 bowl games played to conclude the 1947 season. The Wolf Pack players actually voted not to participate in the bowl, but rescinded that decision after bowl officials considered a lawsuit. Stan Heath threw one touchdown, Ernie Zeno scored the go-ahead touchdown and North Texas dropped a potential game-tying score in the end zone late in the contest to give the Pack its first postseason win in school history.

9. 2015 Arizona Bowl (Nevada 28, Colorado State 23): In an odd bowl matchup of conference opponents, Nevada was out-gained, 532-345, and had 12 fewer first downs than Colorado State but still came out victorious thanks in large part to Elijah Mitchell’s 96-yard kick return for a touchdown, the program’s first since 1998. Tyler Stewart engineered a late go-ahead touchdown drive (James Butler scored from 4 yards out with 1:06 remaining) before Colorado State’s final drive ended at the Nevada 12-yard line as time expired when Rams wideout Jordon Vaden failed to get out of bounds following a 9-yard catch.

10. 2008 Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl (Maryland 42, Nevada 35): The third-highest-scoring bowl game in program history did not go Nevada’s way despite a heroic effort from Colin Kaepernick, who accounted for 385 yards and four touchdowns despite playing with a serious ankle injury. Maryland running back Da’Rel Scott was benched for 2.5 quarters, but he still ran for 174 yards and two touchdowns (on 14 carries) as the Wolf Pack allowed 258 rushing yards and gave up a crucial kick return for a score early in the game.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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