The NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl was dubbed the “Dances with Wolves Bowl” because of the Nevada Wolf Pack and Arkansas State Red Wolves involved. That dance turned out to be a slow waltz most of the game in terms of scoring but it reached break-dance speed in the end.
Nevada quarterback Ty Gangi’s 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Reagan Roberson in overtime enabled the Wolf Pack to beat Arkansas State 16-13 in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl in front of an announced crowd of 32,368 at Arizona Stadium on a picturesque Saturday afternoon.
Arizona Bowl executive director Ali Farhang called it a “Chamber of Commerce Day.”
Arkansas State placekicker Blake Grupe made a 32-yard field goal as time expired in regulation to put the game into overtime and converted a 24-yarder in overtime to give the Red Wolves a 13-10 lead.
Five plays into Nevada’s possession in overtime, Roberson found the end zone on the catch-and-run after receiving the pass from Gangi. It came on a third-and-7 play. Roberson shed the first potential tackler and sprinted to the corner of the end zone before diving across the line.
“We had to change some stuff up with our game plan and did a lot more tight end stuff going into this game, and, you know, we just kept reppin’ it,” said Gangi, who completed 18 of 34 passes for 200 yards. “You know, I just try to stay true to my reads and not pass up an open guy. I gave him a chance, and he made a great play for me, broke a tackle and drove into the end zone. And, you know, game winner.”
The offensively stagnant game started to reach a climax late in the fourth quarter when Nevada running back Devonte Lee capped a 10-play drive with a 1-yard scoring run with 1:06 remaining to give the Wolf Pack a 10-7 lead. Gangi completed a 44-yard pass to Ben Putnam to the Arkansas State 1-yard line and Lee rushed in from there, capping the 74-yard drive that took 2:39.
Putnam, a former walk-on, finished with 114 yards on four receptions.
“That kid competes. I didn’t even know who he was three months ago. All he does is compete,” Nevada coach Jay Norvell said.
Arkansas State answered with a drive to the Nevada 14 with quarterback Justice Hansen, formerly of Oklahoma, completed 5 of 6 passes in the drive for 52 yards. Grupe made a 32-yard field goal as time expired in regulation to tie the game at 10.
Hansen finished with 275 passing yards completing 26 of 46 passes but he did throw three interceptions, two in the end zone. Warren Wand’s 140 yards rushing on 16 carries were not enough to put the Red Wolves (8-5) over the top despite the fact they had xxx yards in total offense.
“We’ve had a struggle with that for a long time,” Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson said. “You can blame on whatever you want to, at the end of the day we just didn’t get it done.”
The pace of the game picked up late in regulation when Nevada was successful on a flea-flicker trick play in which running back Kelton Moore took the handoff and flipped the ball back to Gangi, who completed the 44-yard pass to Putnam to the Arkansas State 17.
However, in a game full of lost opportunities, Nevada (8-5) was stopped on downs with 4:10 left.
Two teams that had prolific passing quarterbacks with each having more than 3,000 passing yards this season and ranked in the top 35 nationally in total offense entering the game could not complete scoring drives.
“We talked today about playing four quarters, and I guess we played five today, I guess, but just fighting and believing and continue to stay with the plan and having faith,” Norvell said about the struggles.
Arkansas State had the ball inside the Nevada 10-yard line three times in the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter but came up empty.
The Red Wolves were stopped on fourth-and-goal at the 4 with 7:41 left in the third quarter when a pass from quarterback Justice Hansen, formerly of Oklahoma, was completed to lineman Lanard Bonner (an eligible receiver) but Bonner was stopped behind the line.
On Arkansas State’s next possession, after safety B.J. Edmonds intercepted a pass by Gangi, the Red Wolves drove from the Wolf Pack’s 39-yard line to the 6. The drive stopped when Hansen threw an interception that was caught by Jomon Dotson end zone off a tip and was returned to Arkansas State 5.
After another interception thrown by Gangi that was snagged by Arkansas State’s Jerry Jacobs, the Red Wolves went from the Nevada 34 to the 9. Once again, the scoring threat was thwarted when Hansen was intercepted at the goal line by Justin Brent, who landed on the Wolf Pack 1.
When asked if he can remember a game with so many blown opportunities inside the 10, Anderson said, “Not off the top of my head, not that that I can remember. So it’s just obviously a rough day for us. Again, it goes — that’s my fault. That falls on my shoulders.”
Indicative of the defensive battle, Arkansas State took a 7-3 lead into halftime after the teams were a combined 3-of-17 on third down conversions and 1-of-4 on fourth-down tries in the first half.
Nevada had five first downs in the first half and a total of only 72 yards on 32 plays. Arkansas State could not take advantage of its 266 total yards in the half because it converted on only 2-of-9 third-down opportunities and was 1-of-3 on fourth-down conversions.
Placekicker Ramiz Ahmed capped a 10-play, 43-yard drive with a 36-yard field goal to put Nevada ahead 3-0 with 5:09 left before halftime.
Arkansas State answered in the following drive going 75 yards on six plays for a touchdown – a 2-yard run by Marcel Murray to give the Red Wolves a 7-3 lead with 3:08 left in the half.