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Recalling the 11 most epic games of the Nevada-Boise State football rivalry

Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick and the Nevada football team's battles with Boise State from 2007-10 were epic. (Byrne Photo/Nevada athletics)

The Nevada-UNLV football rivalry might be the most heated in the state, but the Wolf Pack's series with Boise State has delivered the most great games. In the 46 matchups between Nevada and UNLV, only two have been decided by a field goal or less. In the 43 Nevada-Boise State matchups, 14 have been decided by a touchdown or less, including six by three points or fewer/overtime. Simply put, Nevada and Boise State have played more classic games than Nevada and UNLV, and that's indisputable. With the rivals playing again Saturday when the Wolf Pack travels to Boise State for a 12:30 p.m. Pacific time kickoff, here is a look at the 11 best games played between the teams since the series began in 1971.

11. 2009: Colin Kaepernick's matchups with the Boise State defense were always epic. So epic all four of his games against the Broncos are on this list. The 2009 affair was the most lopsided of the four games, and Kaepernick’s least effective outing. He was held to 172 total yards, although he did throw three touchdowns. Nevada got down early, trailing 20-0 after the first quarter, before rallying within a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Wolf Pack ultimately fell, 44-33, behind Moore’s career-best five touchdown passes, three to fill-in fullback Dan Paul. In Kaepernick's four games against Boise State, the Wolf Pack averaged 42 points, surpassing 31 points in each game. Boise State allowed just 15 points per game in non-Nevada games during Kaepernick's four-year tenure. He bedeviled the Broncos every time he took the field.

10. 2018: The most recent matchup between the teams featured five lead changes and two ties before Boise State prevailed, 31-27. A Tyler Horton 99-yard interception return for the touchdown in the first half helped the Broncos even the score before intermission. A 41-yard touchdown pass from Brett Rypien to A.J. Richardson in the third quarter gave Boise State a 31-24 lead. Ramiz Ahmed's 28-yard field goal narrowed Nevada's deficit to four points before the Wolf Pack came up empty late. Nevada went three-and-out after getting the ball on its own 48 before Boise State went on a 17-play, 61-yard drive that sucked up 8 minutes, 20 seconds, including a great throw by Rypien on fourth-and-8 from the Nevada 39. The Wolf Pack didn't get the ball back until 6 seconds were left and it's attempt a miracle lateral play resulted in a lost fumble.

9. 2012: This was the first game played at Mackay Stadium after the 2010 classic and it was almost equally thrilling. Per usual, Boise State was ranked and got up early, leading 17-0 at halftime. Per usual, Nevada rallied back but ultimately fell short, a key play being tight end Zach Sudfeld’s fourth-quarter fumble just before he crossed the goal line for a touchdown. The Wolf Pack still had a chance to win late, but Cody Fajardo’s Hail Mary at the final whistle was incomplete, Nevada's desperate last-second chance at win falling short. That's been a theme in their series over the last 15 years.

8. 1997: Nevada is 2-18 all-time in road games at Boise State, one of its rare victories coming in 1997 when John Dutton led a 56-42 win by passing for a series-record 557 yards and five touchdowns, with Trevor Insley hauling in 217 of those receiving yards. Dutton’s 557 passing yards were a program record at the time and remain the second most in a game for a Nevada quarterback behind David Neill’s 611 versus New Mexico State a year later. Nevada's only other road win at Boise State came in 1986 when the Wolf Pack was ranked No. 1 in the nation at the FCS level and took a 21-16 victory.

7. 2008: Nevada was down 24-3 at halftime but came within a Hail Mary of sending this one to overtime thanks to some big defensive plays. The Wolf Pack intercepted three Moore passes, returning two of them for touchdowns in the third quarter alone (one was by Jerome Johnson and the other by Josh Mauga, with both players eventually reaching the NFL). Down by 17 points with less than eight minutes to go, Nevada moved within 41-34 before three Kaepernick pass attempts from the Boise State 31-yard line fell incomplete, a Mackay miracle falling just short. Despite his three interceptions, Moore threw for 414 yards and three touchdowns while Kaepernick was limited to 19-of-50 passing (38 percent).

6. 2014: There have been a lot of high-scoring games in this series but few were as wild as this 2014 affair, which Boise State ultimately won, 51-46. Fajardo had a big game, passing for 306 yards, rushing for 71 more and scoring all five of Nevada’s touchdowns, but he also threw a career-high four interceptions, which led to 28 Broncos points. Boise State quarterback Grant Hedrick (26-of-31, 346 yards, three TDs) was nearly perfect, but Nevada had the final possession. Down five points with 2 minutes, 3 seconds left, Nevada had the ball on its 46-yard line with a chance to win but couldn’t find the end zone, a last-second Hail Mary from the Boise State 37 falling incomplete.

5. 1979: Played in Reno, Boise State came from behind twice before having to withstand a late push from Nevada. After a Frank Hawkins 1-yard touchdown run with 52 seconds left, Nevada went for two rather than settling for a tie but was stopped inches short of the goal line. The Wolf Pack recovered an onside kick and got within field-goal distance, but Fernando Serrano missed a 47-yarder to seal Boise State's 28-27 win. Nevada got the last laugh (sort of). Boise State was put on probation for illegal scouting against Northern Arizona from the 1978 season, and, as a result, Nevada earned the western postseason bid, losing in the FCS semifinals to Eastern Kentucky.

4. 1973: This was the third game of the Nevada-Boise State rivalry but the first instant classic. Nevada beat Boise State, 23-21, scoring on the last play of the game to stun the No. 6-ranked Broncos, who committed a penalty on what would have been the last play of the game. That penalty gave Nevada, which was still a Division II independent football program, one final shot and the Wolf Pack capitalized to beat Boise State for the first time (the Broncos were 2-0 in the series). This was Jerry Scattini's only win over Boise State, as the Wolf Pack coach went 1-4 against the Broncos before being fired after the 1975 season while being replaced by Chris Ault.

3. 2007: As good as the 2010 Nevada-Boise State game was, this might be the most exciting contest in the rivalry’s history. It also was Kaepernick’s introduction to America. In his first college start, a fresh-faced Kaepernick, then a freshman, completed 11-of-26 passes for 243 yards and rushed 14 times for 177 yards. He accounted for five touchdowns, but Boise State prevailed, 69-67, in four overtimes in the highest-scoring game in FBS history at the time (it's now second). The teams combined for 1,266 yards (639 for Nevada; 627 for Boise State), but it was a defensive stop that won the contest. With Nevada forced to go for two in the fourth overtime, Boise State's Tim Brady sacked Colin Kaepernick to seal the Broncos' win.

2. 1990: During the 1990 regular season, No. 6-ranked Boise State beat No 2-ranked Nevada, 30-14, but the rematch later that season would go the Wolf Pack's direction. In the only playoff game between the two schools, Nevada beat Boise State, 59-52, in three overtimes to advance to the Division I-AA title game, the only time the Wolf Pack reached the FCS championship round. Nevada fullback Ray Whalen ran for 245 yards and three touchdowns on a school-record 44 carries. It was the second straight three-overtime win for the Wolf Pack, which beat Furman in three OTs one week prior. The fans celebrated by tearing down the goal posts.

1. 2010: No. 19 Nevada beat No. 3 Boise State, 34-31, in overtime in the greatest game in Wolf Pack football history. The game, dubbed Blue Friday by Ault, featured more twists and turns than Lombard Street in San Francisco and captivated a national ESPN audience. This was the best Wolf Pack team ever against the best Broncos team ever, and it came down to the field-goal kickers. Kyle Broztman missed two short ones before Anthony Martinez drilled the game-winning 34-yarder in overtime. Nevada trailed 24-7 at halftime but rallied back to tie the game at 31 on a Kaepernick to Rishard Matthews touchdown with 13 seconds left. A Moore deep bomb to Titus Young set up a potential game-winning 26-yard field goal by Brotzman, which he missed to end regulation. He then missed a 29-yarder to open overtime before Martinez's game-winner. While Boise State has owned this series, this Wolf Pack win kept Boise State out of the Rose Bowl.

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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