SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Nevada 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, 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 Nevada used its best defensive game of the season to beat Boston College 20-13 in the Fight Hunger Bowl on Sunday night.
“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 it played in what used to be Division I-AA.
The win was appropriately sealed by Khalid Wooten’s interception on the final drive of the game for 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.”
The final win was unlike almost all the others as Nevada had a season-low in points and finished more than 200 yards shy of its season average. But the Wolf Pack got their 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 Nevada’s high-powered pistol attack that was third in the nation in rushing. The defense won that battle, holding the Wolf Pack to a season-low 114 yards on the ground, including just 22 for Kaepernick.
“We were just able to stay stout,” linebacker Mark Herzlich said. “I talked about before the game that we needed to keep our responsibilities and not get fooled by the motions and fakes. We were able to do a pretty good job of that throughout the game with the running.”
Freshman Chase Rettig completed 14 of 34 passes for 121 yards and two interceptions. Boston College played without leading rusher Montel Harris, who got hurt stretching before the game.
The teams traded field goals in the third quarter, giving Nevada a 20-10 lead. Boston College was unable to capitalize on an interception that Luke Kuechly returned to the Wolf Pack 6. But two runs netted just a yard and Rettig threw an incompletion, forcing the kick.
“We weren’t able to run the ball, and when we had a couple of passes we had some drops,” coach Frank Spaziani said. “We just didn’t make any plays.”
After Nevada’s field goal late in the third, Rettig’s was intercepted by Marlon Johnson on a deflected ball that gave Nevada possession at the BC 41. Vai Taua fumbled the ball right back but once again the Eagles were unable to take advantage.
Helped by a pair of pass interference penalties, BC got a 32-yard field goal from 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 Rettig to Chris Pantale on their first play.
Two plays later, Wooten intercepted a pass to send thousands of Nevada 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.
The Wolf Pack sold about 15,500 tickets, surpassing California and Navy for the most in the nine-year history of this game. The attendance of 41,063 was the second largest for the bowl. It included one streaker, who ran on the field in the fourth quarter, causing a brief delay.
After an early fumble by Kaepernick led to a 30-yard touchdown run by Andre Williams, Matthews provided the Nevada fans plenty to cheer about in the first half.
First, Matthews 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 Nevada.
The Wolf Pack then held the Eagles to a three-and-out and Matthews returned the punt 72 yards to make it 14-7. That was Nevada’s first punt return for a score since Oct. 13, 2001.
Nevada added a 32-yard field goal by Anthony Martinez to take a 10-point lead at the half.
The game was sponsored by Kraft, which is using the bowl to promote its efforts to fight hunger in the United States. Instead of a coin for the opening toss, officials tossed an Oreo cookie that was chocolate on one side and vanilla on the other.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)