Arizona stuns Nevada 49-48 in New Mexico Bowl
WIldcats come back from 21-point first quarter deficit to win eighth game of the season
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – If there was any doubt about the fight in the Wildcats after a 21-point first quarter deficit, quarterback Matt Scott answered the bell with 19 seconds left.
With his final pass of his collegiate career, the Wildcats scored their second touchdown in the final 49 seconds.
Scott found receiver Tyler Slavin in the end zone, which brought the Wildcats back from not only the 21-point deficit to start the game, but a 45-28 third quarter deficit. The Wildcats were wholly unable to stop Nevada the entire afternoon, but when it came down to it, as Scott put it, “We just executed. We just fought and battled.”
“I’m glad they put me in,” Slavin said. “That meant a lot for me. I wanted to do it for [Scott] and for the seniors and for everybody that’s been working hard. It’s a great way to do it for the seniors and Matt Scott.”
Arizona fought back despite a stellar performance from Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo, who broke a New Mexico Bowl record with 396 total yards and four total touchdowns. Fajardo was voted the MVP of the game until Scott’s final touchdown pass.
The play that set up Arizona’s opportunity to win the game was Scott’s touchdown pass to receiver Austin Hill, who had a game-high 175 yards.
Nevada was called for two pass interference penalties in the final four minutes, which set up the Wildcats at the Wolf Pack two-yard-line. Scott hit Hill in the end zone, but at the time, Nevada still held a 48-42 lead.
After the extra point, kicker John Bonano kicked “the most perfect onside kick you can ever ask for,” according to center Kyle Quinn. “Unbelievable kick by Bonano.”
Because of a recent rule change in college football, attempting an onside kick became much more difficult. Players on the receiving team are allowed to fair catch the ball if it bounces high into the air after bouncing once.
“I’ve had to work on it all year to get two bounces, or to get it to bounce off of a guy,” Bonano said. “I saw a guy sitting right there, so that’s the guy I aimed at. The way I set it up, it popped right into his chest.”
After Bonano kicked it, it hit a Nevada player in the facemask before falling on the ground in front of linebacker Marquis Flowers, the game’s defensive MVP. Flowers sealed the game with an interception after Slavin’s score.
“We practice it all the time, but when it actually hit him, it was like slow motion,” Flowers said. “I look on the ground, and the ball is rolling right down, and I was like ‘My team needs me.’ So I just jumped on it and secured it. I just made sure I jumped on it to give our offense a chance.”
“It was hard,” Scott said. “It’s not easy to come back from that situation. We went out there and took care of business.”
It wasn’t always so crystal clear.
The Wildcats struggled on offense at the start of the game, garnering just six first downs and one score at the end of the first quarter. That was before sophomore running back Ka’Deem Carey scored two second quarter touchdowns and added 145 yards, which helped bring the Wildcats back to a 31-28 halftime deficit.
One major storyline heading into the game was the battle at running back, where Carey and Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferon were first and second on the national rushing leaderboard, respectively.
Jefferson finished with eight more yards in the game, with 180 on 34 carries, but Carey maintained his lead in the battle for the rushing title, finishing the season with 1,929 yards and a school record 23 touchdowns.
“That dude is a great player,” Carey said of Jefferson. “I’m happy I got to see him play. It was a great season. I had teammates that pushed me through. Without them I couldn’t have placed this far.”
Arizona finished the season with an 8-5 overall record in head coach Rich Rodriguez’s first season as head coach. Rodriguez has coached at major-conference programs across the country, but the New Mexico Bowl win ranks among his favorite.
“It’s the latest and the greatest so far,” Rodriguez said. “Certainly, I’ve had some games come down to that end. But to have everything, the defense making the stop, to the field goal, Matt leading the quick drive down there, getting the on-side kick, and then Matt leading down again. It just doesn’t happen very often.
“But the guys never quit. We hung in there just enough to win it.”