Nevada freshman Tory Horton enjoyed a big game receiving against his hometown team, as Fresno State struggled with missing players and costly turnovers in a 37-26 loss at Nevada Saturday night.
Horton, the former Washington Union Panther and Edison Tiger, had a career-high 148 yards on five catches and three touchdowns for the Wolf Pack.
Horton was one of multiple issues the Bulldogs had to overcome; Fresno State’s starting punter, placekicker, and long snapper were notable players not available to compete Saturday.
“We have a lot of guys unavailable, and it’s for a wide variety of things,” said Fresno State head coach Kalen DeBoer. “It’s things that have nothing to do with COVID, it’s some that have to with contact tracing, crazy situations that you can never even imagine that come up why certain guys weren’t able to make the trip.”
The Bulldogs also lost Ronnie Rivers to an apparent ankle injury in the third quarter, which he suffered on a long 66-yard touchdown run that was called back. DeBoer was unable to offer any status on Rivers’ injury postgame.
Despite being shorthanded, Fresno State outgained Nevada 599 to 416 yards, had 30 first downs compared to Nevada’s 14, and had an 11-minute time of possession advantage over Nevada.
Yet in the end, the Bulldogs trailed in the most important numbers: those on the scoreboard.
Nevada got on the board first with a 49-yard field goal from Brandon Holton. Fresno State answered back with an efficient scoring drive capped off by freshman receiver Josh Kelly’s nine-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep design.
The Wolf Pack took advantage of two first quarter special teams miscues by the Bulldogs. A bobbled punt by backup punter Carson King gave Nevada favorable field position, which it turned into its first touchdown, a five-yard Carson Strong pass to Cole Turner.
Fresno State had its next punt partially blocked and the Wolf Pack recovered at Fresno State’s 21-yard line. The field position helped Nevada score another touchdown, a second Strong-to-Turner scoring strike from two yards out.
Quarterback Jake Haener used his legs to scramble for a three-yard score in response, but his Nevada counterpart Strong found Horton for a 17-yard touchdown pass to move the Wolf Pack lead back to ten points.
An offensive first half concluded with Haener connecting with senior Keric Wheatfall for a 19-yard touchdown pass. Following a missed PAT from emergency placekicker Mac Dalena, Nevada took a 24-20 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Coming out of halftime came a wild third quarter that saw Rivers’ long touchdown run called back due to a blocking penalty on Haener, three turnovers between both teams, a Fresno State turnover on downs, and zero points scored between both teams.
A turning point in the game came at the start of the fourth quarter, when the Bulldogs failed to score a go-ahead touchdown on 4th-and-goal from Nevada’s four-yard line.
Two plays later, Horton got free for an 85-yard touchdown catch to push Nevada’s lead to 30-20.
Fresno State and Nevada traded turnovers – a Jalen Cropper fumble on the kickoff return followed by Carson Strong’s second interception of the game – before the Bulldogs faced a critical 4th-and-14, needing to convert while down two scores.
The Bulldogs did not convert and, four players later, Horton made them pay a third time, pulling in the last of his trio of touchdown catches, from 35 yards out.
Fresno State finished 3-for-7 on fourth down attempts Saturday night. Without their starting punter and placekicker, the Bulldogs attempted more fourth downs than it had combined all season.
Jake Haener threw a touchdown pass to Zane Pope with 1:29 left in the game. Pope managed to reel the ball in mid-air after it deflected off a Nevada defender.
Haener finished with two touchdown passes and a career-high 485 passing yards, completing 41 of his 65 attempts.
“The thing I feel Jake’s done is he’s become a better student of the game,” DeBoer said on his junior quarterback. “He understands the direction we are trying to go with the offense. He’s becoming more confident with the ball being in his hands and having to make big decisions, big plays.”
Two Bulldog receivers eclipsed the 100-yard mark: Wheatfall had 113 yards on six catches and a touchdown, while Buchanan grad Jalen Cropper had seven catches for 107 yards. Zane Pope, the Bulldogs’ top receiver in 2019, saw his first game action of the season Saturday, and caught five passes for 96 yards and a touchdown.
Prior to his exit, Ronnie Rivers enjoyed another game with over 100 yards from scrimmage, with 69 yards rushing and 36 yards receiving. He failed to hit paydirt, ending his nation-leading streak of 12 consecutive games with a touchdown.
With the loss to Nevada, the Fresno State Bulldogs (3-2) are eliminated from the Mountain West title race. The Nevada Wolf Pack (6-1) have a chance to reach the conference championship game if they defeat San Jose State next Saturday, provided Boise State defeats Wyoming.
Fresno State will travel to Las Vegas next Saturday to play New Mexico (1-5), a game relocated to Sam Boyd Stadium due to the prevalence of COVID-19 within Bernalillo County.