ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Matt Scott watched helplessly as Nevada kicked a field goal to pad its lead. The Arizona quarterback had already thrown two interceptions and now needed two quick scores and some luck — in a hurry, too — to somehow win the New Mexico Bowl.
Scott even admitted he didn’t have “positive” thoughts before returning to the field.
But in the final 46 seconds, Scott threw two short touchdown passes and college football’s postseason started with a wild one as Arizona rallied past Nevada 49-48 on Saturday.
Overcoming a slow start and three big turnovers, Arizona (8-5) recovered an onside kick in the last minute, setting up Scott’s 2-yard toss to Tyler Slavin with 19 seconds left for the winning score.
“It’s not easy to come back from that situation,” Scott said. “You’re not necessarily going to think the most positive thing at the time, but we went out there and took care of business. It was just a big drive. I still can’t believe it.”
Arizona trailed 21-0 in the first quarter and was down 45-28 entering the final period. Scott threw for 382 yards and marched his team back into the game despite those two earlier interceptions.
“Certainly, I’ve had some games come down to that end,” he said. “But to have everything, the defense making the stop, to the field goal, Matt leading the quick drive down there, getting the onside kick … and then Matt leading down again. It just doesn’t happen very often.”
The nation’s rushing leader, Ka’Deem Carey, gained 172 yards for the Wildcats but fell short of becoming only the 16th running back in NCAA history to reach 2,000 yards in a season.
Arizona receiver Austin Hill caught eight passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns. The teams combined for 1,237 total yards.
Cody Fajardo threw for three touchdowns and ran for another score to lead the Wolf Pack (7-6). He had 256 yards passing and 140 yards rushing and controlled most of the game, completing 22 of 32 throws.
Stefphon Jefferson, the nation’s second-leading rusher, ran for 180 yards for Nevada and also seemed unstoppable as the Wolf Pack took a big lead and held on to it for most of the game.
But after forcing Nevada to kick a field goal with 1:48 left that made it 48-35, Scott drove the Wildcats down 75 yards in about a minute. Arizona then recovered an onside kick and Scott marched his team into the end zone after three plays and 51 yards.
“They scored 14 points in less than two minutes,” Nevada linebacker Albert Rosette said. “I’m still in shock right now.”
Nevada head coach Chris Ault said the team pass defense just didn’t make a play when it was needed.
“Well, it’s a sick feeling,” he said. “Congratulations to Arizona. They held in there and did it, but it’s a sick feeling.”
Ault said a late injury to Fajardo also hurt Nevada’s running game in the last six or so minutes of the game.
“He ran it one time, just tucking it up in there,” Ault said. “But we could not run our read game at that particular time.”
Rodriguez, who took a year off from coaching after a disappointing stint at Michigan, is now 3-5 in bowl game appearances. He called his New Mexico Bowl win among his best career wins as a coach.
“It’s the latest and the greatest so far,” Rodriguez said.