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Ramey: One weekend and three football games to remember at Mackay Stadium

Kendal Stovall
Kendal Stovall kept Nevada in Sunday's game in the first half before the offense scored three goals in the second half to score a 3-2 win over San Diego State. (David Calvert/Nevada athletics){ }

Three football games at Mackay Stadium this weekend. Two were association rules; one was gridiron.

The gridiron score was self-explanatory, if cruel. 55-28 Pack, and it wasn't that close. As to the cruelty? You know who you are, and you have 28.5 reasons to assess yourself.

Carson Strong was brilliant in a Barry Lamar Bonds like way. Strong’s brilliance now is anticipated, and when it arrives our reactions sit somewhere between relief and smug self-satisfaction in knowing it was coming. The danger here is the same with any bright spirit: Some greatness can be so great for so long it appears common. Don't let 12 fool you. What he does every week is profoundly UN-expected, even if we foolishly expect it of him on a per-snap basis.

Strong also showed a fairly granite chin in the first half when he absorbed a heavy blow from Devin Bell (6-foot-5, 295) of the New Mexico State defensive line. The Aggies totaled four sacks of Nevada quarterbacks in the game.

For those who will fret about Nevada's total of 69 yards rushing (out of 532 total yards gained), one is reminded of a reported quote from Lyndon Baines Johnson: "If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read 'President Can't Swim.'"

532 yards of total offense is 532 yards of total offense, no matter how much we luddites want a minimum of 20 fullback dives per game to build character and eliminate neuroplasticity.

Strong's counterpart, Jonah Johnson, was as impressive as a losing quarterback can manage to be in a 27-point loss. The Aggie quarterback and California native endured six sacks by the Nevada defense yet never wavered. Like a tattered pennant fluttering in a gale, he delivered 62 pass attempts amidst a barrage of Pack pass rushers all night long. Johnson completed 38 passes for a total of 425 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for a fourth touchdown, determining the margin for many evenings in Northern Nevada if not the outcome of the game itself (cough).

Jonah never turned the ball over despite being the center of gravity for the Aggie offense on every snap of the game. Those of us who love football for its humanity and not its quarterly earnings sincerely hope the 6-3, 235 pound Johnson made an impression with at least one of the rumored seven NFL scouts in attendance at Mackay.

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Erin Otagaki’s Nevada soccer side had the grittiest weekend. Lightning-in-the-distance optimism at earlier points in the season had yielded hope but also a 1-2-1 start to conference play and 1-8-1 start overall.

It was looking similarly unsatisfying into the 77th minute on Friday night at Mackay against a New Mexico side that had not lost nor tied a match since August (eight wins in a row). The Pack had conceded a goal in the 17th, and appeared headed for a 1-0 home loss having been outclassed (if not out-competed) by the conference's first-place team.

Then Luz Arreaga found Emily Rich for the equalizer in the 77th to level the match at one. From then on it was New Mexico wobbling as Nevada’s attack suddenly congealed for long cohesive stretches.

But because it’s soccer, and often one side has no real advantage in playing better than the opponent, the Pack had to settle for a 1-1 double-overtime draw. In retrospect, the Lobos may feel that their eight-match win streak had no chance for survival in the Silver State, given the Lobos’ draw at Nevada and their loss at UNLV Sunday. The Lobos’ silver medal in Las Vegas was New Mexico’s first defeat in Mountain West play.

Sunday was a beautiful setting at Mackay Stadium, and a terrible match through 45 minutes. San Diego State led 2-0 at halftime. Nevada’s defensive line hung Pack goalkeeper Kendal Stovall out to dry a minimum of five times. It may have been some good fortune that limited the deficit to two goals. The match had the feel of a bad play in a small theatre.

And then it wasn’t. Arreaga scored in the 51st to make it 2-1. Freshman Penny Murphy then converted Nevada’s first penalty kick attempt of the season in the 76th to equalize. And Rich, who must be seen to be believed, blasted a shot that was redirected by Olivia Fothergill for a goal in the 89th minute to give Nevada a 3-2 victory. Stovall’s fortitude in the second half was simply magnificent. Like Strong, Stovall’s brilliance ought not be presupposed. She is likely the best keeper in the conference, and certainly the most valuable to her team.

Witnessing the three-goal rally felt like watching footage of Neil Armstrong on the moon. It stretched the boundaries of perception, yet seemed totally plausible, given the magnitude of the combined effort. Nevada simply played harder than San Diego State for more of the match, and wisely moved midfielder Lauren Muff all over the formation to put the smelling salts to the previously moribund attack. It worked. Poof. Mackay Magic.

And you know what was really nice on Sunday? A 1 p.m. kickoff.

NSN Daily co-host John Ramey is the Voice of the Wolf Pack and writes a weekly column for Nevada Sports Net. He will cheerfully take your reactions, gripes and suggestions at jramey@sbgtv.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Wolf_Pack_Radio.

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