Fresno State quarterback Brian Burrell (2) rushes past the Nevada Wolf Pack defense during the Bulldogs’ 40-20 victory Saturday night at Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nevada. Photo by Darlene Wendels/The Collegian
RENO, Nevada — A solid second-half outing in Saturday’s 40-20 victory over the Nevada Wolf Pack put the Fresno State football team (5-6, 4-3 Mountain West) in a scenario where it is now one win away from playing in the conference title game.
“I’m just really proud of our players and our assistant coaches — not just for tonight, but for the last month,” Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter said. “When people thought it was over, our coaches never gave up, and our players obviously never gave up either. We knew before the season that we were going to come up here and win on the road.
“We didn’t think we could do it with three losses and still have a chance to win the West Division. Our guys found a way to get it done. We did it in convincing fashion, and we did it in all three phases.”
Junior quarterback Brian Burrell threw for 313 yards, four scores and also ran for a touchdown.
“It felt great,” Burrell said about his career-best night. “It was a win or go home, so it was a really important game.”
The passing game got things going with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Brian Burrell to senior Josh Harper to give the ‘Dogs the early advantage.
Nevada answered back quickly, when quarterback Cody Fajardo scrambled and broke free for a long touchdown run on the Wolf Pack’s ensuing drive.
Nevada (6-5, 3-4 MW) grabbed its first lead of the game early in the second, when its senior quarterback once again utilized his legs and took off for a 60-yard run on a read-option play to give his team the 14-7 lead.
Fajardo tallied 121 passing yards and led all rushers with 165 yards on 22 attempts.
“It says a lot about our discipline,” Bulldogs defensive lineman Tyeler Davison said about slowing down the Wolf Pack offense. “Everybody just played their assignment right in that second half and did what they were supposed to do. That’s what it takes to have an efficient defense.”
Davison led the team in tackles with five. He was also responsible for sacking Fajardo in the end zone for a safety.
For their second score of the game, the Bulldogs used a three-receiver set on one side that left inside receiver Aaron Peck open in the end zone for the 13-yard score to tie it up at 14.
On Fresno State’s next drive, Burrell threw a 30-yard strike to Watson to put the Bulldogs up 21-14.
With the Bulldogs looking to go ahead by two scores, Nevada defensive end Lenny Jones intercepted Burrell in Fresno State territory and returned it to the Bulldogs’ 14-yard line.
The turnover would haunt the Bulldogs, as Fajardo connected with Don Jackson for the 14-yard touchdown following Burrell’s interception. But Nevada kicker Brent Zuzo missed his point-after attempt, so the Wolf Pack would only get within one of the Bulldogs instead of tying things up at 21.
Fresno State kick returner Dillon Root was stripped of the ball on ensuing kickoff, and the Wolf Pack recovered inside the red zone. The turnover by Root had the potential to serve as a momentum swing in favor of the Wolf Pack. However, inside linebacker Karl Mickelsen got the ‘Dogs the ball back on the following play by intercepting Fajardo.
“I dropped back to my hook, and then I just saw the ball fall right into my lap,” Mickelsen said. “I just caught it and took off running. It all happened so fast.”
Mickelsen’s pick would lead to a 1-yard read-option touchdown run by Burrell to put the ‘Dogs on top 28-20 going into halftime.
On its opening possession of the second half, Wolf Pack receiver Richardson fumbled the ball, the Bulldogs defense recovered, and it led to Aaron Peck’s second touchdown of the night — this time a 26-yarder from Burrell.
Peck’s second score, along with a field goal from 32 yards out by Kody Kroening moments later, secured the game.
Marteze Waller, a 1,000-yard rusher and the Bulldogs’ top running back, left the game after suffering a big hit near his team’s sideline on the first play of Fresno State’s second drive of the game.
DeRuyter said Waller felt “woozy,” and team doctors kept him out of the game for precautionary reasons. The junior will be evaluated this week to determine if he will play in Saturday’s home finale.
In his limited time on the field, Waller carried the ball six times for 46 yards.
Josh Quezada stepped in for the injured Waller, racking up a team-high 106 rushing yards on 19 carries.
The Bulldogs will host Hawaii on Saturday at 4 p.m. for Senior Day. A win over the Rainbow Warriors would allow Fresno State to clinch the West Division and earn a spot in the conference championship game.