ALBUQUERQUE — Kyle Quinn took a knee and bowed his head.
There was chaos everywhere. Teammates running around, screaming. Fans on the field. Season over. It all happened so fast, so improbably. It was overwhelming.
One moment Arizona was trailing Nevada by 10 points, with less than two minutes to go in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, and the Wolf Pack possessing the ball at the UA 7.
But here were the Wildcats, celebrating as they have not celebrated all season, the clock having hit 0:00 at University Stadium with Arizona having won 49-48, rejoicing in its most unlikely victory since Ortege Jenkins somersaulted into the end zone on a cold Seattle night at Husky Stadium in 1998.
Quinn, a senior center and a team captain, was a solitary figure near the sideline, on a knee, trying to make sense of the final two minutes:
The defense held Nevada to a field goal, keeping it a two-possession game. Arizona quarterback Matt Scott directed a 75-yard touchdown drive. The Wildcats recovered an onside kick with 40 seconds left. Scott drove UA for another TD in three plays. Linebacker Marquis Flowers intercepted a Cody Fajardo pass.
With that, the game really was o-v-e-r.
Quinn, standing in front of a small group of reporters about 45 minutes later, took a deep breath, smiled and said, “How about that?”
Yeah. How about that?
Coach Rich Rodriguez ended his first season at Arizona with an 8-5 record and a photo op atop a podium at midfield, holding the hand-crafted Native American pot that goes to the winner of the New Mexico Bowl.
“We didn’t really play well,” Rodriguez said, “but we kept playing.”
Arizona kept playing when it was down 21-0 in the first quarter. Kept playing after Nevada went from a 28-28 tie to a 45-28 lead late in the third quarter. Kept playing in the final two minutes when the odds of winning were somewhere less than once-in-a-lifetime.
“Doubt tried to creep in,” said safety Jared Tevis. “But we knew we had to keep faith.”
Faith is nice, and so is a senior quarterback.
Scott, who threw two second-half interceptions, completed 8 of 9 passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns in the final two minutes. He finished with 382 passing yards on 28-of-47 passing.
“Those last two drives, you had to be almost flawless with the amount of time we had left,” Rodriguez said. “Matt Scott was flawless. Certainly that is why we won the game.”
Scott was a likely hero, but nobody would have predicted his final pass would go to sophomore Tyler Slavin, who caught a 2-yard slant for his first career touchdown. He was misidentified as injured Terrence Miller in TV highlights and on the public address system because he had to change his jersey from No. 11 to No. 18 to avoid having duplicate numbers on special teams.
Funny how things work out sometimes.
Arizona once lost a bowl game (16-13 to Utah in the 1994 Freedom Bowl) when it allowed a total of 75 yards.
Now, Arizona has won a bowl game when it allowed 659 yards and 39 first downs — the most for any team in any bowl anywhere at any time.
Fajardo had been voted as the game’s offensive MVP, as he passed for 256 yards, ran for 140 and accounted for four touchdowns. Safety Duke Williams, who had intercepted a pass from Scott with about nine minutes left, had been chosen the defensive MVP.
The final two minutes had bowl officials scrambling to select Scott and Flowers instead. Flowers recovered the onside kick after the ball bounced off Williams.
“I definitely made sure to look at their faces,” running back Ka’Deem Carey said of the Nevada defense after the onside kick. “It wasn’t a good one.”
Scott hit Garic Wharton for 28 yards, Austin Hill for 21 yards and Slavin for the touchdown.
“Congratulations to Arizona,” coach Chris Ault said. “They held in there and did it, but it’s a sick feeling.”
There was so much offense — a combined 1,237 yards — that’s it’s almost easy to forget Carey’s 172 rushing yards and three touchdowns, and Hill’s 175 receiving yards and two scores. It gets buried under that two-minute thrill that produced the Miracle at the New Mexico Bowl.
“We honestly kept fighting,” Quinn said. “And Coach Rod has instilled that in us since spring ball, really. Until there are zeroes on that clock, you do not give up. At all.”
Arizona fans will long remember John Bonano’s final 42 seconds