At some point during Nevada’s crazy 34-31 victory over Purdue on Friday night at Mackay Stadium, Wolf Pack cornerback Daniel Brown needed a double-take when he looked at the team’s starting kicker.
“I thought it was Pettit and I looked and said, ‘Oh, that’s the other guy,” Brown said with a laugh.
Instead of Nevada’s starting kicker being Spencer Pettit, the fifth-year senior and scholarship player, Nevada head coach Jay Norvell decided earlier in day he would award little-known true freshman Brandon Talton, a walk-on, the start kicker job. How unknown was Talton before the game?
“When I first met him, I didn’t know who the kicker was,” teammate Elijah Cooks said. “The kicker and punter look exactly alike. I found out maybe a week or two ago he was the kicker.”
And how about now?
“Now I love him,” Cooks said, smiling. “I love him. A freshman making a 56-yard field goal against a Big 10 team, that’s legendary. He just became a legend at the University of Nevada in one game.”
A legend indeed. As time expired, Talton drilled a 56-yard field goal – the third longest in school history – to send Nevada to one of its biggest upsets in school history. He also made a 34-yard field goal – after waving holder Kaleb Fossum onto the field at the last second – in addition to hitting all four of his extra points, including the game-tying one from 35 yards out after a penalty with 52 seconds remaining.
“It sounds like a story,” Talton said after the game. “It sounds like somebody made it up.”
It was a storybook ending for Talton, who not only was given a game ball after the win but also was awarded a scholarship by Norvell in the post-game locker room. Not bad for your first college game as Talbot’s father (Drew), mother (Christine), sister (Nicole) and grandma (Cheryl) watched from the stands.
“We jokingly said to each other that based on how the game was going, ‘Wouldn’t this be crazy if it came down to a game-winning field goal? We probably couldn’t physically take it,’” Drew said. “It’s the first college game he’s ever played and to not only get a game-winning field goal opportunity but to hit it from that distance, it’s just ridiculous. He’s never hit a game field goal from that distance before.”
Talton’s longest in-game field game was from 47 yards. That was at Vacaville High, whose rival, Will C. Wood, was attended by Carson Strong, the Wolf Pack’s starting quarterback who also grew up in Vacaville and shared the spotlight as freshman stars in the win over Purdue. The two weren’t necessarily friends growing up since they went to rival schools, but they had texted over the last year after Talton committed to Nevada.
“I’m proud of the kid,” Strong said. “I told him midway through the third quarter, ‘We’re going to score some touchdowns and it will come down to a game-winning field goal.’”
Talton’s athletic career started on the soccer pitch. He started in the sport at age 3 and was playing high-level competitive soccer by age 8. With his dad being a soccer coach, that sport appeared to be his future. But he joined his high school football team as a sophomore and despite being an all-league soccer player gave up the sport his senior season so he could focus on his new love.
“I legitimately was sad because he was a hell of a soccer player,” his father, Drew, said. “He was really good and fun to watch. But we agreed for him not to play soccer because we knew any injury would be detrimental to his career. It was kind of a weird thing, but we figured if this was his focus he should put all of his energy into it.”
During the summer prior to Talton’s senior season, he was on the recruiting camp circuit when an event on Nevada’s campus popped up. He traveled to Reno and won the camp with Nevada special teams coach Tommy Perry in attendance. Part of the camp included kicking a 45-yard field goal in front of Norvell, which Talton nailed. Four days later, Talton went to a camp at Sacramento State. Perry traveled to see him kick there and was sold. Shortly after, Talton committed to Nevada as a preferred walk-on.
“There are a lot of guys who had other opportunities elsewhere but chose to come here even as walk-ons like he did because of what the school offered and how the people here make you feel," Drew said. "It just felt right.”
On Friday, Talton was put in a number of high-stress situations. Late in the third quarter, he took the field for his first college field-goal attempt. The only issue is Fossum, the team’s holder, wasn’t on the field. After waving his arms to get the staff's attention, Fossum ran out without his chinstrap attached and signaled for the snap with 1 second left on the play clock. Undeterred, Talton drilled the 34-yarder to start Nevada’s comeback.
After Strong hooked up with Elijah Cooks on a 20-yard touchdown pass with 52 seconds left, Cooks was called for excessive celebration, pushing the game-tying extra point back to 35 yards. That pressure was no issue for Talton, who split the uprights. After Strong connected with Cooks again to put Nevada in Talton’s field-goal range, the freshman ran onto the field for the game-winning kick but was iced by Purdue coach Jeff Brohm.
Following his training, Talton used that as an opportunity for a practice kick, which was wide right and a little short. After the timeout, Talton lined up and stroked the football as well as he ever has. Before the ball even reached the goal posts, Fossum ripped off his helmet and was celebrating with Talton, who was lifted on his teammates’ shoulders after the game as Wolf Pack fans rushed the field.
“I hit it and it was going straight through," Talton said. "It was one of those things where I hit it so clean and so smooth I knew it was going in no matter what. I looked at (Fossum) and there was shock in his face and we just jumped on each other. I saw the whole team running and I thought, ‘Protect yourself at the bottom of the pile.’”
At the start of the day, Talton didn’t even know he would be kicking for the Wolf Pack. Nevada has four kickers on the roster, but Pettit and Talton separated themselves during fall camp. Norvell said he couldn’t sleep the night before the game as he tried to determine who would kick in the game. He eventually settled on Talton, who was more consistent in camp and possessed a stronger leg.
After the win, Talbot ran through national and local media interviews before reliving the moment with his family outside of Nevada’s football offices. Asked what he’ll remember about the night 10 years from now, Talbot said he was just focused on Nevada’s next game at Oregon. His father obliged the question.
“It’s his first game, so it’s something we’ll always remember,” Drew said. “There will obviously be video of it memorialized, so whenever we want to watch it we’ll always be able to pull it up. How do you top a night like tonight? Maybe down the road if he’s lucky enough he has to do it again. We’ll always remember this moment. Regardless of what happens after tonight, we’ll know he came into the day not knowing he was going to start and to do what he did was pretty amazing. Tonight was crazy.”
As Talton re-watched the kick on his phone and was alerted his game-winner was No. 3 on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays, he smiled. This was a moment every kicker dreams about.
“It’s the cleanest I’ve ever hit a ball,” he said.
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.