Nevada 20, BC 13

Nevada takes fight out of sluggish BC

Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick fumbles after being blasted by a hit from BC linebacker Mark Herzlich. The Eagles recovered, leading to their only TD and a 7-0 lead. Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick fumbles after being blasted by a hit from BC linebacker Mark Herzlich. The Eagles recovered, leading to their only TD and a 7-0 lead. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / January 10, 2011

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SAN FRANCISCO — It ended not with a bang nor a whimper, but rather with a six-week layoff in which Boston College could not regain the sizzle it had at the end of a regular season, which saw the Eagles storm to their 12th consecutive bowl appearance with a five-game winning streak.

That, and the presence of a strong Nevada squad that beat mighty Boise State, and you have the main reasons for BC’s 20-13 loss to the Wolf Pack last night in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park.

Oh, the Eagles took their best shot, stubbornly picking away after the Wolf Pack seized a 17-7 halftime lead, but they could not get the tying points.

Trailing, 20-10, heading into the fourth, the Eagles, led by freshman quarterback Chase Rettig, could not put anything together. The offense managed only 88 yards in total offense through three quarters, BC’s worst effort since its 54 yards of total offense in a 2009 loss to Clemson.

The Eagles’ last realistic chance began on their 34 with 5:31 left following a Nevada punt. With all pretense of a running game gone, the Eagles had to put something together. Scrambling and aided by a two pass interference calls, Rettig brought the Eagles to the Wolf Pack 15 with 3:56 left, before Nate Freese kicked a 32-yard field goal to cut the margin to 20-13.

Now it was up to the defense — as it has done so many times this season — to come up with a stop or a turnover.

Freese’s onside kick attempt failed, giving Nevada a first down at the BC 46.

The defense held tight, forcing a Colin Kaepernick incompletion on third down.

And with 3:06 left, the Eagles took over on their 10-yard line. Rettig connected with tight end Chris Pantale on a 32-yard completion, but he was sacked on the next play. The season ended on the next play when Khalid Wooten picked off a Rettig pass intended for Alex Amidon.

“That’s a BCS-quality team,’’ said Nevada coach Chris Ault, who watched his team fight off a final surge by the Eagles. “They’re damn good.’’

But in the end, not good enough.

“They executed better,’’ said BC coach Frank Spaziani, whose club dropped to 7-6.

“We had a lot of missed opportunities,’’ said Rettig, who was held to 121 yards passing, with a pair of interceptions and three sacks.

In many ways, the loss to Nevada, which lost just once (27-21 at Hawaii Oct. 16), was a microcosm of BC’s season. The Eagles showed flashes on offense, but not enough to help out a defense that had to contain the speed and effectiveness of Kaepernick, who entered the game with a staggering production of 40 touchdowns running and throwing and more than 4,000 yards in total offense.

Kaepernick is only the third player in NCAA history to rush for more than 1,000 yards and pass for more than 3,000 yards — Missouri’s Brad Smith and Texas’s Vince Young were the others — in a season.

With only 30 minutes left in their season, BC had to come out of the locker room in the second half and find a way to regain the momentum it maintained during its current five-game win streak.

And as has been the case all season, the Eagles’ defense did its job as sophomore All-America linebacker Luke Kuechly provided a spark by picking off a Kaepernick pass and returning it 25 yards to the Nevada 5-yard line.

The Wolf Pack defense stiffened, and Freese came in and kicked a 22-yard field goal with 11:08 left to cut the Nevada lead to 17-10.

The best BC could do was slow the Wolf Pack on their ensuing possession, and when Anthony Martinez kicked a 27-yard field goal with 1:17 left in the third quarter, Nevada’s lead was back to 10 points at 20-10.

As the game moved into the fourth quarter, BC still had some climbing to do.

With a 42-day gap between games, Spaziani’s main concern was rust. But the Eagles showed none of that on Nevada’s first offensive series, forcing the high-powered Wolf Pack to punt after a brief opening flurry. The Eagles’ defense appeared to be fueled by adrenaline.

Offensively, with timing a concern and poor field position (their own 11), the sluggish Eagles were forced into a quick three-and-out.

But as has been the case most of the season, the defense sparked a change. This time it was senior linebacker Mark Herzlich, who stripped the ball from Kaepernick at his 30. Donnie Fletcher picked up the loose ball and BC had its first scoring opportunity.

The Eagles wasted little time. Freshman running back Andre Williams, starting in place of Montel Harris, who was still not 100 percent recovered from his knee injury, skirted around left end and sped 30 yards into the end zone for a 7-0 lead with 8:30 remaining in the first quarter.

Clearly, rust was no longer an issue for the Eagles, who were back playing the type of football that sparked a five-game winning streak to end the regular season.

Nevada did not take long to respond as Kaepernick drove the Wolf Pack 77 yards in 10 plays, capping the drive with a 27-yard rollout TD pass to a wide-open Rishard Matthews.

The Wolf Pack, who played their last game 35 days ago, had also shaken the rust. The tone had been established, with both teams ready to conclude their season on the highest possible note.

The Wolf Pack’s speed was on display a few minutes later when Matthews fielded a Ryan Quigley punt at his 28, found a seam, and sprinted into the end zone to give Nevada a 14-7 lead with 2:27 left in the first quarter. It was the first punt return for a touchdown by Nevada in nine years.

The Wolf Pack slowed in the second quarter as they were held to a Martinez field goal, which gave Nevada a 17-7 lead with 5:42 left in the first half.

BC needed some flash on offense, but as has been the case in the first half throughout the season, Rettig was not in synch with his receivers. The Eagles needed another break to get back into the flow of the game. It didn’t happen and the half ended with Nevada maintaining its 10-point lead.