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Reno, Nev. • For two years, Boise State won every time it took the field. The Broncos had to, if they wanted to be considered a serious team that could one day possibly compete for the BCS title.
When the inevitable loss came, it hurt in more ways than the Broncos could count.
No national title game. No BCS bowl. No grudging respect from the big boys in the big conferences.
"I'm at a loss for words," said quarterback Kellen Moore, who suffered only his second loss in 38 games as Boise State's quarterback. "Hopefully we'll learn something from this."
The first thing the Broncos will learn is that things aren't fair when you're on the outside looking in. But Boise State already knew that even if they ran the table with a second straight undefeated season.
Nevada made sure that wouldn't happen, thanks to a huge second half on the ground and two missed kicks by a normally reliable kicker.
"It's one of those games that usually we have been fortunate to pull some things out and this time we just couldn't do it," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said.
Nevada roared back from a 17-point halftime deficit Friday night, beating No. 3 Boise State 34-31 in overtime in a wild game for the school's biggest win ever. The win snapped Boise State's winning streak and ended any hopes the Broncos would play in the BCS title game.
A game that the Broncos seemingly had in hand slipped away when normally efficient kicker Kyle Brotzman missed a 26-yard field goal with 2 seconds left in regulation and another from 29 yards in overtime. Nevada's redshirt freshman kicker Anthony Martinez didn't miss his chance in overtime, hitting a 34-yarder that touched off a jubilant celebration from a sold out crowd on the Nevada campus.
"It is the greatest victory this university has ever had, I can tell you that," Nevada coach Chris Ault said.
While Nevada celebrated, Boise State pondered what might have been. A day that began with hopes of Auburn or Oregon losing and opening a path to the BCS title game ended with a bitter loss to a team the Broncos had beaten 10 straight times.
In the space of one bad half, the Broncos most likely lost out on playing in any BCS game. On the verge of playing in a big game with a win, they will likely be relegated to the Humanitarian Bowl, played on their own blue field in Boise, or the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco.
That's good news for TCU, which was at risk of being nudged out of an automatic BCS bid by Boise State even if it completed an unbeaten season on Saturday by beating lowly Mountain West Conference rival New Mexico.
"We have a lot of respect for TCU," Petersen said. "I hope they win the rest of their games and go as far as they possibly can."
No. 19 Nevada won't get a BCS bowl bid, either, because that is life for schools not in BCS automatic qualifier conferences. But that didn't stop the overflow crowd at Mackay Stadium from celebrating the improbable win by their team, which was a 14-point underdog.
Nevada (11-1, 6-1) rallied from a 17-point halftime deficit to tie the game with 13 seconds left on a 7-yard pass to Rishard Mathews, who had two second-half touchdowns for the Wolf Pack. But Boise State (10-1, 6-1) appeared poised to pull the game out after Kellen Moore hit Titus Young with a 53-yard pass on the first play of scrimmage after the score.
Brotzman, who leads all active players in career scoring, pushed the short kick right, sending the game into overtime. Nevada won the coin toss and deferred and Brotzman came out to try another field goal, but pulled it left.
"To be honest, I was on a knee on the sideline praying, hoping we'd get another shot," Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick said.
Martinez, a redshirt freshman, came on after Nevada's drive stalled, then calmly stroked the ball down the middle and the celebration began.
"We're a team of destiny," Ault said. "When he missed that field goal I said, 'Here we go guys, we got it now.'"
The loss for Boise State was the first since the Broncos lost in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl to TCU, and it came in the most improbable fashion. Boise State built up a 24-7 halftime lead and appeared on its way to a dominating win, but its offense stalled in the third quarter and Nevada began finding the rhythm with its punishing running attack.
After being held in check by Boise State's defense in the first half, Nevada outrushed Boise State 239-8 in the second.
Boise State came into the game second in total defense, allowing only 229 yards a game. Nevada had more than that on the ground alone, racking up 288 yards behind running back Vai Taua and Kaepernick, who also passed for 259 yards.
Nevada was still down 24-14 entering the fourth quarter when Rishard Matthews took the ball 44 yards on an end around to make the game close. Boise State then punted for the fourth time in the second half, and the Wolf Pack drove 93 yards to tie the game on a field goal by Martinez with a 23-yard field goal with 5:14 left.
But Boise State came back on the next play from scrimmage to score on a 79-yard screen pass to Doug Martin. Nevada then took the ball and marched down the field to score the tying touchdown, setting up the wild finish.
It was Nevada's defense that kept the Wolf Pack in the game, shutting Boise State out in the second half before Martin's score. But it was Matthews who was the star of the night, catching 10 passes for 172 yards and one touchdown, while running for another score.
Moore did his part for Boise State, throwing for 348 yards and two touchdowns. Martin had a big night, too, helping Boise State control the ball in the first half and running for 152 yards and two touchdowns.
In the end, though, it came down to the kickers, and Nevada had the edge on this night.
"One play can never lose a game. I told them one play can win a game but one play cannot lose a game," Petersen said. "Nevada made more plays than us."
R Nevada ends Boise State's long shot at the BCS Championship.