Nevada’s payoff small for such a big win

The payoff for Nevada may come later, perhaps in the form of a

few top recruits – or some grudging recognition from those watching

nationally that the Wolf Pack belong in the Top 25 after all.

Beating No. 3 Boise State in a game the 19th-ranked Wolf Pack

was never supposed to win was the biggest thing to happen in this

gambling city in quite some time. It may have been the biggest

sports story here since Jack Johnson beat up on Jim Jeffries 100

years ago in a heavyweight title fight.

It certainly was a boost for a longtime coach whose only

previous claim to fame was that he invented the increasingly

popular pistol offense.

”It is the greatest victory this university has ever had, I can

tell you that,” coach Chris Ault said. ”The way it happened is

just an unbelievable feeling.”

Play in the puny Western Athletic Conference, though, and the

benefits can be limited. In Nevada’s case, that means the Wolf

Pack’s only tangible rewards may be an improved rating and a trip

to New Mexico for a bowl game that exists only to fill a few hours

of television time for people taking a break from Christmas

shopping.

It could be worse. At least Nevada fans get to celebrate a job

well done.

Boise State’s faithful can only wonder what might have been as

any hopes of a national title game or even a BCS bowl bid

evaporated, when a kicker who had only missed three times all year

whiffed on two short field goals. Final score in overtime: Nevada

34, Boise State 31. Suddenly, the annual BCS debate got a lot

easier.

Had things gone right for the Broncos on what will always be

known in Idaho as Black Friday, they might have been making travel

plans for Jan. 10 in Arizona or perhaps the Rose Bowl on New Year’s

Day. Instead, their 24-game winning streak is over, their

reputation has taken a hit, and the consolation bowl they’re headed

for has none of the glamor of the ones the big schools play in.

And coach Chris Petersen still isn’t acknowledging what might

have been.

”We still have another game next week,” said Petersen, whose

10-1 Broncos will face Utah State. ”We said all along, at the end

of the season we will see where we are and go from there.”

For the better part of three quarters Friday night it looked

like Boise State would go places that small schools aren’t supposed

to go in the BCS system. Up 24-7 at half, the Broncos were playing

with the cool efficiency that made them the darling of BCS busters

everywhere and seemed headed for their 25th straight win.

Then Nevada’s vaunted ground game started grinding out the yards

and the pistol offense stopped firing blanks. Quarterback Colin

Kaepernick began hitting passes, and Vai Taua started getting big

chunks of yardage up the middle.

Against a defense that was No. 1 in the nation against the run,

the Wolf Pack ran at will. Nevada outgained Boise State 239-8 on

the ground in the second half, rallying to tie the game not once,

but twice, before the Broncos struck with a long pass with just 2

seconds left to set up what appeared to be a winning field goal

from 26 yards.

Senior kicker Kyle Brotzman, though, missed wide right. Then he

pulled one left on the first possession in overtime.

And a freshman kicker from a local high school made Boise State

pay dearly. Anthony Martinez, who earlier had a field goal try

blocked, calmly kicked a 34-yarder through the uprights, and the

celebration was on.

Few had noticed as Nevada won all but one of its games this year

and climbed into the national rankings for the first time since

1948. Few had expected a team that had dropped 10 straight to Boise

State and came into the game a 14-point underdog would upset one of

the top teams in the country.

But the Wolf Pack did, gaining 528 yards on a defense that was

only giving up 229 yards a game. Missed field goals aside, this was

no fluke.

”This win puts a stamp on this program that says this team is

ready to play football with any team in the country,” Kaepernick

said.

Nevada will almost surely get a boost in the rankings this week

heading into its last regular season game against Louisiana Tech.

But with Boise State now likely headed to the Kraft Fight Hunger

Bowl in San Francisco, the Wolf Pack may end up representing the

WAC in the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 18.

That hardly seems fair, considering an unranked Connecticut team

with four losses has the inside track to a big BCS bowl game worth

millions to the school and the Big East Conference. But the BCS is

not about being fair, and teams in conferences like the WAC have to

take their victories when they can.

”I think Boise and the TCU’s of the world are showing people a

balance in college football,” Ault said.

Ault could include his own team in that equation after the team

from the Biggest Little City in the World won its biggest game

ever.

”For these players to hang in there against such a great

football team, the way they did it to win. I can’t describe it,”

Ault said. ”I’m just so proud of this team.”