Wyatt Demps hauled in three touchdown passes and Nevada held off a pair of Fresno State comebacks in a 27-22 victory Saturday in a Mountain West game.
The Bulldogs (1-5, 0-2) resuscitated their running game, with Dontel James rushing for a career-high 169 yards, but too often were burnt on defense by Demps or forced on offense to settle for field goals in losing their fourth straight. Fresno State drove to the Nevada 4 in the closing seconds, but was denied.
“It’s a gut-wrenching loss for our guys,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “I was proud of our defense for getting off the field there at the end. I thought we played much better in the second half, gave our offense a chance. They did a great job moving the ball down the field and making plays, we just ended up 4 yards short.”
I don’t think anyone is worried about big picture. We have San Diego State next week. We’re back home at Bulldog Stadium and out guys are excited to get back home and get back in this race.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter on the long-term implications of another defeat in what’s shaping up to be a third straight losing season
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Fresno State finally found the end zone with 1:26 to play in the third quarter, when Chason Virgil hit fellow redshirt freshman Jared Rice on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
After the last of Demps’ TD catches pushed the lead back to 11, James’ 5-yard run made it a one-possession game with 5:08 remaining.
The final gasp came with 30 seconds to play, on the last of four chances from the 4. Virgil scrambled to his left to keep the drive alive, but threw wide to KeeSean Johnson in the end zone and Nevada ran out the clock. Virgil saw a first-down pass to Aaron Peck in the corner get knocked away.
“We only had one timeout left,” DeRuyter said of the end-of-game sequence. “When we got the first down, the clock was running. We thought we had a good matchup with Aaron so we threw the fade. At that point we probably could have run the ball. but we thought we had some plays that we had practiced all week down there in the red zone that we just didn’t execute.
“Give Nevada credit. Their kid knocked the ball out of Aaron’s hands and they executed down there better than we did.”
Fresno State needed a touchdown, rather than a field goal to tie, after failing on a 2-point conversion pass on James’ scoring run. Virgil threw low to an open Peck on the PAT.
Next up for the Bulldogs is Friday’s home game against West Division favorite San Diego State. The Aztecs (3-1) played their conference opener later Saturday against UNLV.
“I don’t think anyone is worried about big picture,” said DeRuyter, on the hot seat after back-to-back sub.500 seasons. “Everybody is hurting for this game. But I know this group. We challenged them. We have San Diego State next week. We’re back home at Bulldog Stadium and out guys are excited to get back home and get back in this race.”
Demps’ 8-yard catch on a Tyler Stewart pass capped a 14-play, 75-yard drive for Nevada (3-3, 1-1) with 7:56 to play after Fresno State scored the first 10 points of the second half to get within 21-16.
The Bulldogs, who entered with one of the nation’s worst ground attacks, rushed for 255 yards as a team.
“Dontel is starting to run the ball the way we expect him to,” DeRuyter said. “I was really proud of his effort. He’s got to take care of the ball – he had one fumble (late in the first half) that we have to eliminate. But he ran the ball explosively and showed what he can do.”
The passing game remained inconsistent, with Virgil finishing 16 of 27 for 197 yards. He was 3 of 6 for 37 yards in the first half.
We should have made the plays we were supposed to and we could have put away that game pretty easily.
Fresno State defensive back Stratton Brown
Fresno State had allowed at least 300 yards rushing to each of its past three opponents – losses to Toledo, Tulsa and UNLV – and didn’t fare much better against Nevada. Butler finished with 175 yards on 37 carries and the Wolf Pack gained 226 as a team.
But the defense did respond in crunch time. After James’ scoring run, the Bulldogs held Nevada to a three-and-out to set up the final drive.
“It always hurts,” said senior defensive back Stratton Brown, who forced a fumble to fuel one of the Bulldogs’ second-half rallies and finished with six tackles. “This hurts even more because we should have won it. We should have made the plays we were supposed to and we could have put away that game pretty easily.”
Rice’s catch was the first of the tight end’s career. Two plays into the Wolf Pack’s subsequent drive, Brown forced a fumble by Butler, Nick Kristofors recovered and the Bulldogs were in business again at the Nevada 43.
But that drive ended in the third of Kody Kroening’s field goals, a 35-yarder, to make it 21-16 with 13:37 remaining.
Fresno State rode solid early running by James to a pair of first-quarter field goals, but Nevada built a 21-6 lead at halftime.
A first-half switch at quarterback did little to spark the Bulldogs. As planned in game-week prep, the Fresno State coaching staff brought junior transfer Zach Kline off the bench for a second-quarter series but he fumbled after running 9 yards on a second-and-8 play from the Fresno State 34.
Nevada took over at the Bulldogs 44 and needed 10 plays to push its lead to 14-6. Stewart went the final 4 with 4:22 left in the half after Butler converted fourth-and-1 at the 34 with a 3-yard run
Stewart threw 3 yards to Demps for another score with 12 seconds to play in the half.
Kline returned for the second series of the second quarter but saw a 75-yard touchdown pass to Jamire Jordan wiped out by a hold on receiver Aaron Peck. Jordan later dropped a pass from Kline while wide open in Nevada territory.
Virgil returned to start the second half.
Kroening’s 25-yard field goal to end the opening quarter had pulled the Bulldogs within 7-6. His 44-yarder, set up by James’ 34-yard run (the Bulldogs’ longest of the season), made it 3-0 with 9:13 remaining.
Andrew Celis, on a halfback option, threw 36 yards to Demps to give the Wolf Pack a 7-3 lead with 4:48 to go.
Fresno State entered the game ranked 122nd nationally in rushing, averaging 104 yards per game.
James, a junior from Fontana, was averaging just 3.3 yards per carry as the lead back but on Fresno State’s first play from scrimmage found a hole on the right side of the line and carried the ball to the Bulldogs 48.
The opening drive, starting at the 14 after a Nevada punt, went nine plays and 59 yards before the Bulldogs settled for three. James ran seven times for 48 yards.
Fresno State freshman running back Justin Rice, like brother Jared a Central Catholic-Modesto product, made his debut after a fall-camp foot injury that was first thought to be a season-ender. He rushed for 8 yards on three first-quarter carries.
▪ Virgil had owned the Bulldogs’ long rush of the season at 22 yards. James’ best was 19.
▪ Nevada was ranked 125th nationally in rushing defense, allowing 272 yards per game.
FRESNO STATE VS. SAN DIEGO STATE
- Friday: 7 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium
- Records: Bulldogs 1-5, 0-2 Mountain West; Aztecs 3-1, 0-0 pending Saturday night game vs. UNLV
- TV/radio: CBS Sports Network/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: San Diego State rushed for 305 yards in last season’s 21-7 victory over Fresno State
Nevada 27, Fresno State 22
FS: FG Kody Kroening 44, 9:13. Drive: 9 plays, 59 yards, 3:11. Fresno State 3, Nevada 0.
NEV: Wyatt Demps 36 pass from Andrew Celis (Brent Zuzo kick), 4:48. Drive: 10 plays, 82 yards, 4:20. Nevada 7, Fresno State 3.
FS: FG Kroening 44, 9:13. Drive: 9 plays, 59 yards, 4:48. Nevada 7, Fresno State 6.
NEV: Tyler Stewart 4 run (Zuzo kick), 4:22. Drive: 10 plays, 44 yards, 3:33. Nevada 14, Fresno State 6.
NEV: Demps 3 pass from Tyler Stewart (Zuzo kick), 0:12. Drive: 9 plays, 84 yards, 1:12. Nevada 21, Fresno State 6.
FS: Jared Rice 1 pass from Chason Virgil (Kroening kick), 1:26. Drive: 15 plays, 65 yards, 8:13. Nevada 21, Fresno State 13.
FS: FG Kroening 35, 13:37. Drive: 5 plays, 25 yards, 2:13. Nevada 21, Fresno State 16.
NEV: Demps 8 pass from Stewart (kick failed), 7:56. Drive: 14 plays, 75 yards, 5:41. Nevada 27, Fresno State 16.
FS: Dontel James 5 run (pass failed), 5:08. Drive: 9 plays, 75 yards, 2:48. Nevada 21, Fresno State 16.
Time of Possession
Rushing: Fresno State, James 27-169, Treyvon Green 6-29, Zach Kline 4-23, Virgil 7-16, KeeSean Johnson 1-10, Justin Rice 3-8. Nevada, James Butler 37-175, J. Kincaide 8-52, Stewart 3-0, Team 1-(-1).
Passing: Fresno State, Virgil 16-27-0-197, Kline 0-1-0-0. Nevada, Stewart 13-20,-0-127, Andrew Celis 1-2-0-36.
Receiving: Fresno State, Johnson 5-71, Jamire Jordan 3-50, Green 2-23, Aaron Peck 2-17, Hardaway 1-23, Kyle Riddering 1-12, Jared Rice 1-1, James 1-0. Nevada, Demps 9-124, J. Richardson 2-13, James Butler 1-19, Ahki Muhammad 1-5, Celis 1-2.
By the numbers
- 34 Yards for Dontel James on a run on the Bulldogs’ opening drive, longest by a running back this season
- 48 Plays run by Nevada in the first half, 19 more than the Bulldogs.
- 6 Games in a row the Bulldogs have held opponent scoreless on opening drive.
- 20 Yards on six plays for Nevada in the third quarter.
- 10 Consecutive field goals made by Kody Kroening since miss on first attempt of season.
- 2 Scores allowed by the Bulldogs’ defense this season in nine drives following a turnover.
- 75 Yards on a TD pass to Jamire Jordan that was wiped out by a holding penalty.
- 255 Rushing yards for the Bulldogs, most since 272 at New Mexico in 2014.
- 10 Tackles for linebacker Jeff Camilli, third game in a row with 10-plus and fourth in five games.
- 1 Career reception for tight end Jared Rice; it went for a third-quarter touchdown.