ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- In a game that featured 1,234 yards of total offense, Arizona managed to pull out a miraculous victory over Nevada-Reno, 49-48, Saturday thanks to deciding plays by a kicker and a linebacker in the final 42 seconds.
Trailing 48-35, in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Arizona scored on a 2-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Scott to wide receiver Austin Hill with 42 seconds left. Kicker John Bonano's extra point pulled Arizona to 48-42. Bonano then pushed a perfect onsides kick to the left and Wildcats linebacker Marquis Flowers recovered at his own 49 with 40 seconds left.
"Bonano placed the ball perfectly. It was a perfect kick," Flowers said. "I'm running to get the ball and it hit him in the face."
Arizona (8-5) drove 51 yards and tied the score with 19 seconds left on a pass from Scott to Terrence Miller. Reno called a timeout in an attempt to freeze Bonano on the PAT, but he then made it anyway, giving Arizona a lead, 49-48, for the first time in the game.
But with 19 seconds on the clock, this game could not be considered a done deal, not with a Nevada team that totaled 658 yards ready to receive a kickoff.
Bonano avoided a kickoff return with a 65-yarder out of the end zone for a touchback, giving Reno the ball on its 25 with those 19 ticks left and needing a field goal to win.
Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo lofted a pass down the left seam, but Flowers intercepted it, effectively ending the shootout with 13 seconds left.
"We don't practice it every week, but we're built for that (type of rally) because of our tempo," Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Being in a two-minute drill or less-than-a-minute drill, that's easier for us than other teams."
Fajardo had 22 completions on 31 passes for 255 yards with three touchdowns and another 139 yards rushing with one score.
Arizona's Scott finished the game with 369 yards passing but was at his best with two of his three touchdowns in the final 42 seconds.
"It was really exciting for me, to do that during crunch time. We just executed," Scott said.
Rodriguez was impressed by the effort of his fifth-year senior.
"I said before, this guy is a stud, not just on the field," Rodriguez said. "Matt Scott was flawless."
Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, the nation's leading rusher, carried 29 times for 171 yards and three scores. Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson countered with 33 carries for 164 yards and two touchdowns.
The Wolf Pack (8-5) set a record for any bowl game with 39 first downs.
"Well, it's a sick feeling," Nevada coach Chris Ault said. "Pass defense and we didn't make a play. We had to make one and had the chance to recover an onside kick. It was a hot kick. Should have let it go through and play from behind."
Nevada (7-6) seemed to seize control of the game in the third quarter despite Jefferson not playing a single snap. Fajardo led the Wolf Pack on a 12-play drive, capped by a 33-yard touchdown pass to Richy Turner to extend their lead to 38-28.
Bryson Keeton then intercepted Scott on the 17-yard line on Arizona's next drive. Nevada proceeded to march down the field, chewing up over 6:30 off the clock on 15 plays. Despite taking a shot to the head during the drive, Fajardo came back in and ran in a TD from one yard out to make it 45-28.
Scott found Austin Hill for a 63-yard touchdown strike to open the fourth quarter, only to throw an interception on Arizona's next possession, followed by Nevada getting a late field goal to seemingly sew up the game.
Turnovers proved to be the key to Arizona getting back into the game after trailing 21-0 early and then ultimately an interception finally ended the scorefest.
An interception and a fumble led to a pair of touchdowns as the Wildcats tied the game at 21-21 on Carey's 1-yard TD run in the second quarter.
The two teams exchanged another touchdown apiece by Jefferson and Carey before Nevada took a 31-28 halftime lead on Allen Hardison's 27-yard field goal as time expired.By Chris Jackson
NOTES: Arizona defensive players Tevin Hood and Cody Ippolito were shown on ESPN getting into a brawl on the sideline. "As soon as I heard that happened, we sent those guys to the locker room and they left the stadium with their parents," Rodriguez said. "It's embarrassing, but I didn't see it, so I can't comment on it." ... The ESPN telecast never referred to Nevada's pistol offense by name in order to not offend anyone in the wake of Friday's shootings in Newtown, Conn. ... Scott was named the game's offensive most valuable player and Flowers took home the defensive honors. Prior to Arizona taking the lead, Nevada's Fajardo and Duke Williams were lined up to take home the awards.