Tyler Stewart finally has his first Mackay miracle.
“Last home game and to go out with a win, you can’t ask for anything better,” the Nevada Wolf Pack quarterback said after a 37-34 overtime victory over the San Jose State Spartans in the final home game of the season Saturday afternoon at Mackay Stadium.
The sparse Senior Day crowd of 17,215 saw Stewart engineer a game-tying touchdown drive in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter and then win the game in overtime with an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jarred Gipson. “Tyler was phenomenal,” said Wolf Pack head coach Brian Polian, whose team has now won three games in a row to improve to 6-4 overall and 4-2 in the Mountain West. “I thought he was great. He executed when we needed it most.”
Stewart, who completed 16-of-26 passes for 174 yards and three touchdowns, led the Wolf Pack 75 yards on 13 plays to tie the game at 31-31 on a 2-yard touchdown run by Don Jackson with 36 seconds to play in the fourth quarter. The game-winning touchdown pass to a wide-open Gipson came on the Pack’s third play in overtime after San Jose State had taken a brief 34-31 lead on a 35-yard field goal by Austin Lopez. “He is who we think he is,” Wolf Pack senior defensive end Lenny Jones said of Stewart. “He has great poise. He’s never too high or too low. I love Tyler. He’s my boy.”
Stewart made the play of the game with his feet on the Pack’s final drive in regulation. Facing a 4th-and-3 from the San Jose State 43-yard line with 1:12 to play, Stewart took the snap and rolled far to his right toward the Spartan sideline. “It was kind of weird,” Stewart said. “I thought I heard someone say, “Go,” or “Come on,” and then I just looked up and thought, ‘You know what? I can run.’ So I did.”
Stewart took off back to the left toward the Wolf Pack sideline and headed for the first down marker at the 40-yard line. He made it with a few inches to spare. “It was pretty far,” smiled Stewart, referring to his 3-yard run with the game on the line that likely required about 50 yards of running.
“That was the longest 1-yard run I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Polian, arbitrarily taking two yards off of Stewart’s game-saving run. “He just kept finding ways to make plays.”
After he got his wind back, Stewart then connected with Gipson for 27 yards to the San Jose State 12-yard line. A pass interference call on Spartans’ safety Vincente Miles two plays later on a pass intended for Gipson in the end zone then set up Jackson’s game-tying touchdown.
“I complain a lot (about the officials),” Polian said. “But that was the right call. Some people don’t want to throw the flag in that situation. I commend the crew for making that call.”
The game-tying drive began at the Wolf Pack 25-yard line with 2:49 to play and ended with Jackson finding the end zone with 36 seconds to play. “The two-minutes drive is when you have to excel if you are going to be a great player,” Stewart said.
Stewart also excelled in overtime, finding wide receiver Hasaan Henderson for 12 yards and a first down at the 11-yard line, setting up the game-winning pass to Gipson over the middle. “I told Tyler, ‘Look for me,’” Gipson said. “I was wide open. It was a great feeling.”
“When they (San Jose State) got the field goal (in overtime), it was, ‘OK, we know what we have to go get,’” Stewart said. “It was time to go.”
Stewart said he wasn’t shocked to see Gipson so wide open down the middle. “Not really,” he said. “I had a guy in my face so I kind of had to go around him. But a play like that, they either cover him or they don’t.”
They didn’t and the Pack won on Senior Day for the first time since 2011.
“As soon as it happened I knew I was going to run out on the field,” smiled linebacker Jordan Dobrich. “When I saw the ball leave Tyler’s hand I looked up and then saw that Gip was wide open and I just knew. I already had my helmet off before he even caught the ball and I was running.”
The Wolf Pack had not won a game in overtime since beating Wyoming 35-28 at Mackay Stadium in 2012. “I ran over to the student section (the opposite end zone from where Gipson scored),” said Jones, detailing his immediate postgame celebration. “Some guy ran out on the field and gave me a high five. I just wanted to celebrate with the students. I told them, “We believe. We need you to believe, too.’”
There wasn’t much celebrating , though, when the Wolf Pack trailed midway through the third quarter 21-10 after San Jose State scored 21 unanswered points. Spartans’ quarterback Kenny Potter, who threw for 186 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 116 yards, did his best to spoil the Pack’s Senior day festivities. Potter tossed a 13-yard touchdown to Tim Crawley in the second quarter for a 14-10 halftime lead and found Billy Freeman from 23 yards out in the third quarter for a 21-10 led. The Pack had taken a quick 10-0 lead early in the second quarter on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Stewart to Jerico Richardson and a 27-yard field goal by Brent Zuzo.
“It looked kind of bleak there for a while,” Polian said.
James Butler brightened the Pack’s spirits with a 58-yard scoring run up the middle to cut San Jose’s lead to 21-17 with 9:37 to go in the third quarter. Stewart then hooked up with Henderson for a 24-yard score to give the Pack a 24-21 lead early in the fourth quarter.
San Jose State, now 4-6 overall and 3-3 in the Mountain West, then responded by taking a 28-24 lead on another 13-yard Potter-to-Cawley touchdown pass and upped its lead to 31-24 on a 37-yard field goal by Lopez with 2:49 to go. “I got after my guys (on defense) a little on the sideline,” Jones said. “We had a lot at stake. I got ticked off and got after guys and I think we played better after that.”
Stewart commended the Wolf Pack defense for holding the Spartans to a field goal with under three minutes to play in regulation. “If they don’t do that we don’t have a chance to tie the game,” Stewart said.
The Wolf Pack defense held San Jose State running back Tyler Ervin to just 64 yards on 17 carries. Ervin came into the game as the Mountain West’s second-leading running back with 1,239 yards. “I felt we held Ervin in check pretty well,” Polian said.
“We knew we had to run to the ball, we knew we had to gang tackle and we knew we had to fill the gaps,” Dobrich said. “We didn’t pull any magic on defense. We just had to go out and play disciplined football.”
Potter, though, was a different story for the Pack. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound junior accounted for 302 (186 passing, 116 rushing) of the Spartans’ 433 yards. “We were determined to not let Ervin beat us,” Polian said. “But our intention also was not to let Potter run wild.”
The Wolf Pack almost didn’t get a chance for any overtime heroics. San Jose State had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation on a 51-yard field goal by Lopez but the Pack’s Ahki Muhammad, a 5-9 freshman, broke free on the left side and blocked the kick. “The field goal block,” Polian said. “Holy cow. Ahki Muhammad made a terrific play. That play is called ‘Put Ahki Muhammad in the game.’ He’s so quick and so little, and low to the ground. We just called a left rush and he got a great jump. That was a pretty wild ending.”
The Wolf Pack’s last win in its final home game of the year was 56-3 over Idaho on Dec. 3, 2011. “We saw the seniors last year and how they felt (after losing 40-20 to Fresno State on Senior Night),” Jones said. “We remember them in the locker room, crying and we just told ourselves, ‘We have to find a way.’”
The Wolf Pack has now won seven games in a row against San Jose State and 12 of the last 13. The victory made the Wolf Pack bowl eligible for the 10th time in the last 11 years and also kept alive the Pack’s chances of winning the West Division and going to the conference title game. To catch San Diego State in the West Division the Pack needs the Aztecs to lose to UNLV on Nov. 21. The Pack also needs to close the regular season with wins at Utah State (Nov. 21) and San Diego State (Nov. 28).
“This was Senior Day but this win wasn’t just for the seniors,” Dobrich, a senior, said. “We didn’t want to just get this win for the seniors. We wanted a team win. It doesn’t stop here. We want to get the next one.”