RENO, Nev. — A game between two of the top sophomore quarterbacks in the nation ended with neither player on the field.
Nevada’s Cody Fajardo left the game with an injury, Wyoming’s Brett Smith was ejected, and it was Wolf Pack backup Devin Combs who led his team to a 35-28 overtime win Saturday night.
Things looked bleak for Nevada when Combs came in.
Fajardo had led his team to a 21-7 lead in the first half. Nevada’s ground game — a potent attack that featured the most productive running back in the country, Stefphon Jefferson — had been corralled by a motivated Wyoming defense that usually struggles to stop the run.
While the running game struggled (Nevada totaled just 127 total rushing yards in the game), the Wolf Pack built a lead on Fajardo’s arm.
He had completed 19 of 26 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns before he was hit hard after throwing an interception to Wyoming’s Darrenn White late in the second half. Fajardo left the game with back spasms. Combs played the rest of the game.
The backup started shaky but soon settled in. He threw two touchdowns — one to tie the game late in the fourth quarter and one to seal Nevada’s win.
“It took Devin some time to find himself,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said. “But he did and I’m proud of him. To bring this team back in the fourth quarter and then win this thing, that was pretty special.”
Nevada completed the comeback with Combs’ 24-yard pass to Aaron Bradley in overtime.
Wyoming — without Smith, who was ejected for getting two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the game, saw its chances at winning end when backup quarterback Jason Thompson's fourth-down pass fell incomplete to end UW’s overtime series.
Combs put the Wolf Pack in position to win thanks to a 44-yard pass to Richy Turner with 1 minute, 18 seconds left in the game. UW got the ball back after the score, but instead of attempting to get into field position to kick a field goal, the Cowboys opted to take a knee and run out the final half-minute of the game.
It was a stunning turnaround for the Cowboys, who fell to 1-4 on the season.
After Fajardo had been hurt and before Combs found his groove, UW had fought back. The Cowboys took a 28-21 lead when Smith faked a hand-off then ran 8 yards for a touchdown.
The sophomore celebrated the play too much for the officials’ liking, however. Smith was flagged for his antics, a penalty that later proved to affect the outcome of the game.
When UW tried to make it a two-possession game later in the quarter, Smith disagreed with the officials on a call. It earned him another unsportsmanlike conduct call that — under NCAA rules — meant he was suspended for the rest of the game.
Officials had thrown a flag on the fourth-down play that angered Smith. After discussion, they waved it off and said that the UW receiver Smith targeted on the play, Chris McNeill, was not held by a Nevada defensive back.
Smith removed his helmet in frustration, a move that earned him the second penalty of the game.
Wyoming coach Dave Christensen disagreed with what he said was a game-changing penalty.
“Guy is running off the field, three yards from the sideline running off the field, takes his helmet off and you’re going to throw a flag on him,” the coach asked after the game. “That’s unbelievable.”
Before his ejection, Smith completed 21 of 34 passes for 197 yards and three touchdowns. He did not leave the field after his suspension, instead watching Nevada’s comeback from the sideline with his arms across his chest.