Nevada’s running offense and defense forcing five turnovers helped secure the first win of the Ken Wilson Era on Saturday night.
The Turnover Trident and Strong Run game were featured in Nevada’s season-opening win
Led by the running back duo of Toa Taua and Devonte Lee, the Wolf Pack opened the Ken Wilson era with a 23-12 win over New Mexico State on Saturday night. Toa Taua rushed for 109 yards on 19 carries while Devonte Lee rushed for 61 yards on 13 carries and scored two touchdowns. This contest against New Mexico State was the game that saw the Wolf Pack offense run the ball very well after years of racking up big passes under former Coach Norvell’s Air Raid offense.
This game also saw Nevada’s defensive force five turnovers against the Aggies and saw the debut of the Turnover Trident.
See the Trident in all its splendor
While the Wolf Pack’s running game and defense forced turnovers and held an impressive pitchfork, the passing game left a lot to be desired. Shane Illingworth was named Nevada’s starting quarterback just before kickoff. Illingworth completed 7 of 12 passes for 51 yards. Nate Cox played in the second half of the game and completed 7 of 11 passes for 27 yards, but Cox rushed for 33 yards and became a key piece of the running offense late in the game.
Alex Margulies of Nevada Sports Net reported that Illingworth’s hamstring was tightening and that’s why Nate Cox took over at quarterback in the second half.
But this game wasn’t about the wolf pack throwing the ball all over the field. New Mexico State was one of the worst running defenses in the FBS last season, and the Aggies couldn’t stop Nevada’s running offense last night. As a team, the Wolf Pack rushed for 179 yards on 45 carries. This game was all about Nevada establishing the running game and being physical on the offensive line. Last night against the state of New Mexico, the wolf pack was successful.
The action in this contest began in the first quarter. New Mexico State moved the ball well on its first two possessions, but those possessions yielded zero points. On NMSU’s first possession, the Aggies’ drive ended with a missed 49-yard field goal by Ethan Albertson.
On the Aggies’ next offensive possession, they tried it on the fourth down deep in Nevada territory, but NMSU QB Diego Pavia threw an interception to Nevada’s Isaiah Essissima and that drive ended with zero points for the Aggies.
After the New Mexico State turnover, the game was stopped by referees due to lightning in the area and the delay lasted approximately 30 minutes. After the delay, both teams traded punts and the first touchdown of the game happened to New Mexico State when a snap went over Illingworth and landed on the ball in their own end zone that was bunted by New Mexico State and led to the Aggies to lead 2-0.
However, on New Mexico State’s next offensive possession, Pavia threw his second interception to Nevada’s Bentlee Sanders. Nevada then turned that interception into a touchdown when they went on a four-play, 80-yard drive that ended when Devonte Lee ran for a 32-yard touchdown to put the Wolf Pack up 7-2.
New Mexico State’s next offensive possession ended with another turnover. It happened when Pavia was hit by Nevada’s Dom Peterson and the ball came loose and Peterson recovered the ball deep in NMSU territory. Nevada once again turned the Aggie loss into points when the Wolf Pack scored on a 4-yard touchdown run by Devonte Lee that put them up 17-2 at the half.
In the third quarter, New Mexico State benched Diego Pavia for real freshman Gavin Frakes and Aggie’s offense began to move forward. Midway through the third quarter, Frakes led the Aggies down the field and hit wide receiver Kordell David on a beautiful 10-yard touchdown pass to cut the Wolf Pack’s lead to 17-9.
Nevada responded on its next offensive possession with a 13-play, 57-yard drive that ended with Brandon Talton hitting a 34-yard field goal to extend the Wolf Pack’s lead to 20-9. But the Aggies with Frakes at quarterback responded with an 11-play, 47-yard drive that was helped by two Nevada defensive penalties that extended Aggie’s drive. The Wolf Pack defense limited NMSU to one field goal when NMSU kicker Ethan Albertson kicked a 45-yard field goal to cut the Wolf Pack lead to 20-12.
The Wolf Pack’s next offensive possession saw them lean into their running game to close out the game. However, Nevada faced a couple of third-down situations on his last drive. On the 3rd and 11th at Nevada 29, Nate Cox turned the ball over to Toa Taua and Taua gained 12 yards for the first down. Later in that same drive, Nevada faced another third-down situation at its own 49-yard line. Cox handed it over to Devonte Lee, who worked his way up for another first-and-ten.
Then disaster almost befell Nevada late in the game. With a little over two minutes left in the game, Nevada quarterback Nate Cox’s pass was deflected and intercepted by NMSU’s Bryce Jackson in what looked like a big late fumble to help the Aggies. But referees ruled the pass incomplete and the wolf pack received a reprieve.
Four plays later, Brandon Talton hit another 38-yard field goal to extend Nevada’s lead to 23-12 late in the game. The Aggies’ offensive last gasp late in the game fell short when Frakes’ pass was intercepted by Nevada’s Tyson Williams to finally save the game for Nevada.
With the win, the Wolf Pack won their fifth straight season opener and will look to improve to 2-0 in their home opener next Saturday against Texas State.
More Mountain West Soccer!
Mountain West Football: Week 0 Winners and Losers
Nevada Football: Shane Illingworth named starting quarterback vs. State of New Mexico
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The story originally appeared on the Mountain West Wire