SAN FRANCISCO — UNR rode Colin Kaepernick and a high-powered offense to its most successful season since joining the top division of college football.
With Kaepernick and the Wolf Pack’s potent running game bottled up most of the night, however, it was the defense and special teams that delivered.
Rishard Matthews caught a touchdown pass and returned a punt for another score, and No. 13 UNR used its best defensive game of the season to beat Boston College 20-13 in the Fight Hunger Bowl on Sunday.
“Our defense was huge tonight,” Kaepernick said. “When we didn’t make a play they did. For most of the night it was them making plays.”
Kaepernick threw for 192 yards and a touchdown for the Wolf Pack (13-1), who snapped a four-game bowl losing streak by tying a school record for wins in a season, set when they played in what used to be Division I-AA.
The win was appropriately sealed by Khalid Wooten’s interception on the final drive by the Eagles (7-6).
“This will probably go down as the greatest football team to play at the University of Nevada,” coach Chris Ault said. “That’s pretty special. I told these guys you’re not only making a memory but you’re leaving an indelible mark in the city of Reno and the University of Nevada.”
UNR sold about 15,500 tickets, surpassing California and Navy for the most in the nine-year history of the bowl. The attendance of 41,063 was the second largest for the bowl.
The Wolf Pack’s 13th win was unlike almost all the others as they had a season low in points and finished more than 200 yards shy of their season average. But UNR also got its first punt return for a touchdown in nine years, and gave up a season-low 185 yards.
The game matched BC’s top-ranked rushing defense against UNR’s high-powered pistol attack that was third in the nation in rushing. The Eagles’ defense won that battle, holding the Wolf Pack to a season-low 114 yards on the ground, with Kaepernick gaining only 22.
After an early fumble by Kaepernick led to a 30-yard touchdown run by BC’s Andre Williams in the first quarter, Matthews provided UNR fans plenty to cheer about.
First, he got behind the defense as Kaepernick scrambled to his left. Kaepernick then flicked a pass toward the end zone for an easy 27-yard score that tied the game for UNR.
Only 1:13 later, after the Wolf Pack held the Eagles to a three-and-out, Matthews returned the punt 72 yards to make it 14-7. It was UNR’s first punt return for a TD since Oct. 13, 2001.
UNR added a 32-yard field goal by Anthony Martinez to take a 17-7 lead at halftime.
After the teams traded field goal in the third quarter, BC got a 32-yard field goal by Nate Freese with 3:52 to play to make it 20-13. The Eagles got the ball back at their 10 with 3:06 to go and got a 32-yard pass from freshman Chase Rettig to Chris Pantale on their first play.
Two plays later, Wooten intercepted Rettig to send thousands of UNR fans home happy.
“I’m really proud of our defense because we’ve been and up and down defense all year and these guys found a way to play well and play well all four quarters,” Ault said.UNR 20
BOSTON COLLEGE 13
KEY: Rishard Matthews scored on a 27-yard catch and a 72-yard punt return in a span of 1:13 in the first quarter, giving the Wolf Pack a 14-7 lead they didn’t give up.