When the Nevada Wolf Pack play host to the Boise State Broncos for Homecoming on Saturday at Mackay Stadium, it will be yet another get together in one of college football's most interesting rivalries.
There certainly is history, and familiarity. Boise has played no other school more times than it has played Nevada - 42 times in all. Boise's in-state rival Idaho is next at 40 times.
The series itself reads like a series of mountain ranges. At the top of each peak are clear eras of supremacy, with several consecutive victory streaks leading up to each mountaintop. Boise State won nine of the first 11 meetings held between Sept. 25, 1971 and Sept. 18, 1982. The Wolf Pack, under Coach Chris Ault in the mid-1980s and with one of the preeminent Division I-AA programs in the country, then turned the tables on the rivalry, winning three of four between 1983-86 and then seven of nine between 1989-98.
"People tend forget about that time period," Ault, who retired at the end of the 2012 season as the Wolf Pack's coach following 36 years serving either as football coach or athletic director, or both, recently recalled. "We were beating Boise, and we were beating them regularly."
By 2007, though, Boise State was firmly planted in the national football consciousness. The Broncos' thrilling Jan. 1, 2007 43-42 upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl was one of the greatest college football games ever played. Running back Ian Johnson took a knee and proposed to his cheerleader girlfriend, Chrissy Popadics, on the sidelines immediately after the game. Not surprisingly, the nation fell in love with the Broncos. By the start of the 2007 season, the Broncos were in the midst of what would grow to a nine-game winning streak over the Wolf Pack.
Then, of course, came Nov. 26, 2010 at Mackay Stadium -- a 26-degree Friday night in November that no Wolf Pack fan will ever forget.
Boise State, ranked fourth in the country and poised for another Bowl Championship Series berth, fell to Nevada, 34-31, on Anthony Martinez's 34-yard field goal in overtime. Boise State's reliable senior kicker, Kyle Brotzman missed a 26-yard field goal with two seconds left in regulation, and another from 29 yards in overtime.
The Wolf Pack, led by senior quarterback Colin Kaepernick, would go on to beat Boston College and linebacker and future NFL All Pro Luke Kuechly in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco, finishing 13-1 overall.
Like all good rivalries, the seeds for what seemed like an improbable miracle victory can be traced back three seasons earlier, to perhaps the greatest game ever played in the Wolf Pack-Broncos series.
It was a game the Wolf Pack lost, in four overtimes, 69-67, at Boise. The 136 points set the NCAA record for most points scored by both teams in an overtime game. The two teams combined for 1,266 yards as Ault's explosive "Pistol" offense, which he'd implemented in 2005, finally showcased to a national television audience on ESPN what type of mind-boggling offensive production it was capable of.
Why was the "Pistol" so effective that night? Consider: A week earlier, in a loss to Fresno State, which dropped Nevada to 2-3, starting Wolf Pack quarterback Nick Graziano was lost for the season with a foot injury. He was replaced by a 6-foot-5, 210-pound redshirt freshman from Turlock, California named Colin Kaepernick, who would make his first collegiate start on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2007, against the Broncos.
"This was only the third year of the Pistol, so it was still an offense that people hadn't seen, or weren't sure of," Ault said. "That night, it just felt really comfortable with Kaep. It was always an offense that was created for an elusive quarterback who could use the play-action pass to his advantage. That was something Kaep was just so good at. He was a tremendous ball-handler and that arm of his ... he was still a thrower then, and it would take another couple of seasons before he became a polished passer. Boise definitely had a team that year that was capable of breaking the game open at any time. It was a matter of, could we hang with them? The key was Kaep."
And for those looking at karma, omens and other football metaphysics in evaluating the importance of the '07 Boise game, there is this: A freshman kicker named Kyle Brotzman - the same Kyle Brotzman who missed two huge field goals in 2010 - booted a 27-yard field goal as time expired to force overtime.
It was a painful loss for the Wolf Pack.
Yet in looking back on its psychological value to a program that was desperately in need of feeling it could be competitive with Boise, losing in four overtimes in '07 in many ways served as prelude to the big victory in 2010.
"The two games were so different, 136 points on a beautiful October night in '07 in Boise and then the tight game on a cold, 26-degree night in November in 2010 in Reno," Ault said. "But the more I've thought about it, maybe you're right ... without the wild game in 2007 ... who knows?"
Added Luke Lippincott, the Wolf Pack running back who would score four touchdowns in the '07 game: "It's funny you would say that. I have this motto of mine, from my first year in college with Coach Ault: "Agonia." "Agon" is the root of agony. In ancient Greece, it was believed that without struggle there is no success. That's what that game represented. That game will always be the most fun, the most memorable game I ever played in. But it was also the biggest heartache of a game I ever had."
What follows is an oral history of the 2007 Nevada-Boise State game.
The 5 p.m. Reno time game was played on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2007, before 30,394 fans at Bronco Stadium in Boise, Idaho. Boise State entered the contest at 4-1 overall. The Broncos were a three-touchdown favorite. Boise State possessed a talented defense that was ranked third nationally, yielding only 12.2 points per game. Nevada, having lost its starting quarterback in Nick Graziano the week before in a 49-41 loss to Fresno State at Mackay on Oct. 6, was 2-3 overall. Kaepernick replaced an injured Graziano, who was lost for the season, in the second quarter against Fresno.
CHRIS AULT: Jeff Rowe, who was our starter in 2006, had graduated (Rowe was drafted in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals), and I had invested a lot of time in Graz. He was the future, without question. Kaep was the freshman redshirt in 2006. Most of my time was put into Graz. Kaep was gangly, a decent athlete, and was just a thrower at that point in his development. He wasn't a passer yet. That would come later in his career. There was nothing in his redshirt year that would've led us to think he would turn out to be what he was. We didn't run the read-option with the Pistol yet, so there were aspects of Kaep's strengths that hadn't come into play yet. When Graz went down, my heart went into my throat. Kaep had no experience. He was a future guy. How good he was going to be remained to be seen.
JOHN BENDER (Bender, 6-foot-8, 325 pounds and a native of Three Hills, Alberta, Canada, was a four-year starter for Nevada from 2007-2010 on the Wolf Pack offensive line. Along with Kaepernick and several others, he was part of a 2006 recruiting class that would provide the foundation of Wolf Pack football from 2007-2010): Kaep was a lead-by-example kind of guy. When it was needed, though, he had a pretty stern voice. I remember when we first met. He was a really skinny kid, tall and lanky. He always worked extremely hard. I remember watching him and thinking, "This kid wants to play and he wants to do well."
CHRIS AULT: One of Kaep's strengths then was he wasn't afraid to run. If you go back to the game before, the Fresno game and when Graz went down, we came back with Kaep (Kaepernick threw for 384 yards, four touchdowns and ran for 60 yards and one more score against the Bulldogs). He was scrambling and throwing the ball. There was a whole different energy with Kaep in there. When the passing game wasn't going, he just took off running. It wasn't planned, but it worked. So going into the Boise game, we knew Kaep was fast. But how fast was he? Boise had some very talented defensive players. We decided that Kaep had pretty good legs, and could run effectively, even against a defense like Boise's, so we put the quarterback draw in. That was the only thing we added. We cut the game plan down, a little, but not that much. We thought the quarterback draw would be a nice add.
LUKE LIPPINCOTT (Lippincott, from Salinas, California, played six years for Nevada, due to injuries he suffered while a Wolf Pack running back in 2005 and again in 2009. When healthy, he was a 1,000-yard rusher in 2007 and again in 2009): Colin and I were roommates for the games. We would always spend the night in the hotel room racking up the room service bill and going over all the plays. We all loved Nick Graziano. Graz was great. But I knew Kaep was great, too. He was super skinny, and you didn't really know what he could do. But he had an awesome work ethic. He was always up for anything to make himself better. I really respected him for that. My thing was always to lead by example. I was always the first into the weight room and the last to leave. No one could keep up with me ... until Kaep came along. He would want to stay longer than me. I would go so hard until I puked; but Colin would always match my work ethic. That's how I knew he was a leader. That's what we all responded to, and that's why he was our leader.
JOHN BENDER: Humble and hungry. That's always been Kaep. He would say things like, "We're going to win and if you don't believe we're going to win, then stay in the locker room." He would say things like that, and you'd just know how important winning was to him.
VAI TAUA (Taua was another member of the 2007 Wolf Pack freshman class. From Lompoc, California, Taua would gain 112 yards as a freshman in 2007, then became one of the greatest backs in Wolf Pack history, rushing for 45 touchdowns and finishing his career with 4,588 yards): We all knew Kaep was waiting for his opportunity. I wasn't surprised by the game he put on display that night against Boise. We all knew when he got the opportunity, he was down to lead the team.
KEVIN GRIMES (Grimes, from Grass Valley, California, was a freshman special teams member in 2007 who would go on to become a starter at linebacker for the 2010 team): Coach Ault always did such a phenomenal job getting us ready for every major opponent. For our freshman recruiting class, this was our first game against Boise State. We knew they were always on TV, and they were the nation's darlings. We didn't exactly know what to expect with our first Boise game. But we did know that Coach Ault had prepared us very well, as he always did. We were ready to play.
The game was played on a Sunday night, and televised nationally on ESPN. Boise State had played the Sunday previous on ESPN as well, thumping New Mexico State, 58-0, at Bronco Stadium.
CHRIS AULT: We were in the WAC (Western Athletic Conference). Karl Benson, who's still a good friend, was the commissioner of the WAC. The WAC was always fighting for TV time. One of the negotiations was the WAC would be glad to put some of its conference games on Sundays. One, or two, just to get a foothold and some attention. It was a unique deal, but it was a conference thing. You're going against the NFL on a Sunday night, so hold on.
LUKE LIPPINCOTT: I'd bet we had some pretty good highlights that night on ESPN.
Against the stout Boise State defense, Luke Lippincott would rush for 187 yards on 31 carries. Kaepernick would scramble for an additional 177. The Wolf Pack would total 396 rushing yards.
LUKE LIPPINCOTT: From the very first play, I wasn't trying to break it 80 yards. No, that wasn't what we were trying to do. From the very first play, I was trying to knock some heads. If you look back at the game, you'll see me doing nothing the first few series but running straightforward, straightforward, straightforward. There is one play in particular I'll always remember. It was 3rd and 8, on the 10- or 12-yard line, and Coach Ault called me for right up the middle. "Give it to Luke," he said. I saw one Boise defender standing in my way, and I just ran straight over him. It was like hitting the sweet spot on a baseball.
VAI TAUA: I remember watching that play in the film room. Luke ran their DB over at the goal line. When you see that play, when Luke runs the guy over at the goal line, you realize what a big game it was - how much our guys wanted it. What a crazy game.
JOHN BENDER: Our job was to push Boise's defensive line back and have their linebackers get caught in the wash. Luke always hit every hole hard. That was the kind of runner he was. That night he was really hitting the holes hard. And Colin was just so dynamic. You'd forget just how much of a challenge it was for a defense to stop him. Sometimes it was just get your hands on somebody because often Colin didn't need much. You'd see the safety go the wrong direction and then you'd see Colin racing down the sideline.
The Wolf Pack had lost seven straight to Boise State. No. 8 seemed like a distinct possibility based on how the game started. Boise surged to a 21-7 lead with 6:05 to play in the first half. Nevada's run defense was ranked 119th in the country, and Ian Johnson had gained 107 yards by early in the second quarter. Boise, known for its gadget-play trickery from the Fiesta Bowl in January, scored on a fake field goal. The Wolf Pack rallied on the next possession, with Kaepernick on 3rd and 12 rolling and hitting receiver Marko Mitchell on an out pattern for a 58-yard gain. Lippincott then scored from the 1-yard line to pull Nevada to 21-14, before Boise scored again on a 25-yard pass play. The next play, Kaepernick again connected with Mitchell for a 58-yard touchdown strike with 1:15 to go in the half. The play was set up from a play-action fake by Kaepernick. The halftime score was 28-21, Boise.
CHRIS AULT: The scoring pass to Marko Mitchell was a great illustration of why play-action was so critical to the offense's success. It was also such a great illustration of Kaep's ability to use play-action. He made fakes with the ball that were really unbelievable, and he did that throughout his entire career. He could handle the ball as well anyone I've ever coached, and it showed whenever we used play-action.
LUKE LIPPINCOTT: Some of the things Kaep did that night set the tone for the rest of the season - what he could do and what we were capable of, and how the offense would evolve under his leadership. His arms were so long, so much longer than the average quarterback's. He could hold the ball in my belly for a whole extra yard. He would keep the linebackers' focus on me, then would read the defense, and then decide whether to keep it there for me to run or to pull the ball back out and run himself. Other quarterbacks just don't have the extra length that Colin has to do something like that. It was such a subtle thing, but such an important thing. It was another reason why he was such a great quarterback. And it was another reason why Coach Ault was the greatest coach I've ever played for. Coach Ault, realizing what he had, made sure to use Colin's strengths as a strength of the offense.
KEVIN GRIMES: We'd go every day in practice, so maybe there wasn't the element of surprise so much for some of us who saw Colin each day in practice. It's always one thing to shine in practice, and something completely different to shine on the big stage. Colin had this amazing ability to do both.
Nevada tied the game at 28 with 12:52 to go in the third quarter on a 5-yard score by Lippincott. Two Kyle Brotzman field goals, from 40 and 31 yards, gave Boise the lead, 34-28, with 13:18 left in the game. Kaepernick then again hurt Boise on a key third down play. On 3rd and 8 from the Nevada 30, Kaepernick, on a keeper, ran through the Broncos' defense for a 28-yard gain. On the next play, Kaepernick rolled to his right, and off-balance and throwing across his body, flicked the ball 50 yards in the air to receiver Mike McCoy in the back of the end zone for a score. Nevada's extra point was blocked. The game was tied 34-34 with 12:03 to play. "Well," said former Alabama coach Bill Curry, who was doing color commentary on ESPN that night, "the words of Chris Ault are haunting: ‘If we can just kind of hang around until the fourth quarter.'"
JOHN BENDER: Colin had a cannon for an arm, and he could make time for himself in the pocket. It's wild when you play with someone like him, because that becomes your new normal. I remember playing for Calgary (in the Canadian Football League), and our quarterback was the 2010 Most Outstanding Player in the CFL. I'm watching film, and I remember thinking, "Henry Burris needs to make this throw. Because Colin Kaepernick always could. What's the deal that he can't, and Colin could." You didn't realize how talented Colin was at the time.
Ian Johnson, who would finish with 205 yards, then scored on a 32-yard reception to push Boise back in front, 41-34 with 10:37 to play. On the next possession, Kaepernick took off running from the Wolf Pack 31-yard line, sprinting to the Boise 9-yard line. On the next play, Kaepernick loped to the far sideline with three Boise defenders in hot pursuit. As he approached the pylon at front of the end zone, Kaepernick made a split-second decision. He deftly moved the ball, switched hands from his ball-carrying right to his left hand. He extended his left arm and reached the ball out, hoping to stay inbounds with the ball still in play, breaking the plane of the end zone on the inside edge of the pylon. The officials decided Kaepernick had just missed the inside of the pylon. He was ruled out of bounds just inside the 1-yard line. Ault challenged the ruling. After a near five-minute delay, replays provided the officials with enough evidence to reverse the call. Kaepernick's touchdown tied the game at 41 with 10:12 to play.
CHRIS AULT: Our coaches in the booth were yelling in my headset, "Hey coach, go after them, challenge it!" You're on the road. It's Boise, so you never know if you're going to get the challenge or not (laughs). But what a phenomenal play by Kaep. He was electric that night. He energized the sideline with plays like that all night long.
JOHN BENDER: Colin was one of the most intelligent players I've ever been around. That play at the pylon was a great example. He had a very similar play against Boise in 2010 when we played them in Reno. That's Colin. He's a playmaker.
Nevada seemingly had won the game following its final drive of regulation time. A Kaepernick dash along the Boise sideline of 25 yards - a play in which he seemed to, in his gradually accelerating deer-like fashion, simply pull away from the defenders who were chasing him - set up Brett Jaekle's 35-yard field with 3:40 to play. Nevada's 44-41 lead was short-lived, however. Boise's Rashon Scott took the kickoff from the goal line to the Wolf Pack 42. Brotzman's right-footed boot of 27 yards as time expired tied the game at 44. It was the fifth tie of the game. The game was headed to overtime.
KEVIN GRIMES: I actually don't remember the long kickoff return. I do know we probably got yelled at a lot the next week in practice about it, though (laughs).
VAI TAUA: I think people underestimated Kaep's speed. He doesn't look like he's moving, but he's very long, he's got those long legs and he's covering a lot of ground and slowly he's pulling away from you ... and you don't even realize it. With those long legs of his, he'd be around the edge, take a step or two, and then ... you couldn't do anything about it. He was so detail-oriented that he knew, based on what he saw from the defensive end, even if the defensive end was square or not, when it was time to take those two steps inside and just take off.
CHRIS AULT: You could feel the air go out a little bit when Brotzman hit the field goal. But the guys weren't deflated. They couldn't say, "Here we go again," because there had no "Here we go again" in the recent history of the rivalry. They were just hungry. They knew they had gone toe-to-toe with Boise. They'd learned something about themselves. They wanted to win."
Boise won the toss for overtime and Nevada started with the ball from its own 25. Each team would have one possession from the 25-yard line in overtime, and if the game continued on in overtime, would have to go for a 2-point conversation starting with the third overtime. On the first play, Lippincott burst straight up the middle following a great block by center Dominic Green to put Nevada up, 51-44. Boise, on its first overtime possession, forced a second overtime after quarterback Taylor Tharp hit Sherm Blaser for 25 yards and a score. Then Boise, with the ball to start the second overtime, scored on its first play - a 25-yard pass from quarterback Tharp to Jeremy Childs. There had been three plays in overtime, and all had accounted for scores. It was the ninth touchdown of 25 yards or more in the game. "You can't have a rivalry unless you win a few every now and then," Curry said, wondering if the Wolf Pack, having lost seven straight, was now facing an eighth straight Boise loss. On Nevada's second play, Kaepernick, on a quarterback draw, cut at the 20-yard line, making two Boise defenders miss, then cut again at the 5-yard line, his feet skittering as if on a tightrope into the end zone to tie the game at 58. Kaepernick now had 170 yards on 13 carries. He would also finish with 243 passing yards. Said Curry: "I've never seen a freshman, redshirt or otherwise, come into a game and command the way Kaepernick has."
CHRIS AULT: I can't say enough about Luke Lippincott. That run at the beginning of overtime set the tone. We were going to lock horns with them.
CHRIS AULT: Not one time in Boise did I see the big eyes, that it was too much for Kaep. He was completely comfortable with the stage and what was happening. I'd suggest a play, and Kaep would say, "Oh yeah, we'll make it go" ... and then he would. We could've played with 10 guys that night, and Kaep probably still would've found a way to make it happen.
JOHN BENDER: To see Colin's growth and development over that season was super interesting. We opened the season at Nebraska and we didn't play particularly well (Nevada lost, 52-10). Coach Ault brought Colin in near the end of that game. He came in, and just getting him to speak loud enough for the play call in the huddle was a challenge. I pulled him over and said, "Colin, you've got to yell so I can hear the play call." When Graz got hurt against Fresno, we didn't realize he had been hurt as badly as he was. We thought maybe coach was trying to shake things up and inserted Colin. Colin just started swinging at it, really competing hard. Boise, he knew the game plan and he executed it."
The third overtime began with Nevada's possession. Two Lippincott power rushes took the ball to the 5-yard line, but a delay of game penalty pushed the ball back five yards and the drive stalled. Jaekle's 27-yard field goal put Nevada up, 61-58. Brotzman's 29-yarder tied it at 61. The game was headed to a fourth overtime.
CHRIS AULT: There just wasn't any defense on any side of the ball that night. When you're on the road like we were, the odds were against us. All we needed, all night long, was just one turnover. They weren't going to stop us.
LUKE LIPPINCOTT: I remember looking (sophomore tackle) Alonzo Durham in the eye, he might've broken his wrist at that point, and giving him this look: "We're doing this!"
VAI TAUA: You've got to remember where most of the guys during that time came from. It really was the toughness we had during that era. Everyone was pretty tough. We'd worked extremely hard. That was Coach Ault. You were going to be a Nevada guy or you weren't. There was no in between. You matured very quickly because you learned things were important, because Coach Ault always made them feel important. I remember each week we'd still be doing conditioning drills all the way up to Thursday; nowadays you do walk-throughs on Thursday. We had been through a lot of adversity just to be on the team. A lot of us had come through California and had been overlooked by other schools. It motivated us. A lot of us were in the same boat. It was a group of guys that really felt they needed to prove themselves, because a lot of people had overlooked us.
KEVIN GRIMES: How we played and how hard we worked, the culture of what we are a part of, started at the top. It started with Coach Ault. He instilled it in all of us. I'm forever grateful to him for that, and I've carried the lessons I learned from him throughout my career.
In the fourth overtime, Johnson's 1-yard score came courtesy of a second and third effort that characterized his groundbreaking career at Boise. As the rules stipulated, Boise would have to go for a 2-point conversion. Tharp, releasing the ball quickly off a Nevada blitz, found Jeremy Avery out of the backfield for the conversion. Boise led, 69-61. The Wolf Pack scored five plays later after Kaepernick's seven-yard gain saw him tip-toeing along the sideline. Lippincott powered through the middle for a 7-yard score. For the two-point conversion, Kaepernick rolled to his right. Boise linebacker Tim Brady, on a blitz, flooded into the backfield but was knocked down by a Lippincott block. Somehow Brady, who a few seasons before had joined the Boise program as a walk-on, bounced back up after Lippincott's block. He scrambled back to his feet, then dashed toward Nevada's quarterback. He dove desperately for Kaepernick's feet. Grabbing both of Kaepernick's legs, he brought Kaepernick down in the backfield. Boise's players stormed onto the field in victory. In the tumult of the celebration, Ault met Boise State Coach Chris Petersen near midfield. He put his arm around the younger coach. The game was over. Boise had won the game, 69-67.
LUKE LIPPINCOTT: The guy who tackled Colin was my block. I went low and chopped him - it was legal to do - and he went to the ground, and I watched him claw and fight and get back up as fast as he could. Kaep's first and second reads weren't there, and my guy made the tackle that ended the game. It was a great play for him, he was on the ground, and he didn't give up. That will forever haunt me. As I've coached since college, I've used his example many times with my young athletes. I try to always be an optimist, so it's a great, yet painful lesson. As much as that memory hurts, he didn't give up. You go down. You fight. You never give up.
CHRIS AULT: I can still picture that play in my mind. Kaep has the ball, he's scrambling. I see him look right, then he looks to his left, and Brady dives and makes the shoelace tackle. That play could've been extended even longer if Kaep's legs for once hadn't been as long as they were.
CHRIS AULT: I love Luke Lippincott. He was a real major factor in that game and throughout that era. He really signified what Nevada football was all about. He was the heart and soul of our team. And I've got to tell you, when Luke warmed up to Kaep, that really helped Kaep with the offense. It could've been a tough situation, losing Graz. The players loved Graz, too. But Luke played a major role in how well the offensive guys accepted Kaep the way they did. When you think of Luke Lippincott, you always think of great leadership, great character, great person.
CHRIS AULT: At the end of the game, if only for a few seconds, after the great play by Brady, there was almost a dead silence. I think the Boise people were thinking, "Oooffff. Finally this thing is over." Our heads went down. The air went out of our sails. Both teams, though, were extremely complimentary of each other. It had been that kind of game.
BOISE STATE COACH CHRIS PETERSEN (to reporters in 2007): "It's really too bad someone had to lose this one. I don't think I've felt that way after any game, ever."
LUKE LIPPINCOTT: I couldn't walk after the game. I couldn't raise my shoulders. I'd given it so much that when I went to eat dinner with my dad (Dr. Brian Lippincott, a psychologist), I couldn't raise the fork to put the food in my mouth. But that's what I wanted. That's the way I always tried to play. I always wanted to leave it all out on the field. I remember we were all pretty beat up. It had been an incredibly physical game. I think Alonzo Durham had a broken wrist, John Bender could barely walk ... we'd given it our all.
JOHN BENDER: I broke my left ring finger early in the game then tore my (left) meniscus right before halftime. But I kept playing because we didn't have a ton of depth, right? And Boise was a game we all wanted to win so badly. I didn't know bad my injuries were until the next day. I have a left finger today that you still can't fit a ring on.
CHRIS AULT: Our guys were down in the locker room. We had a lot of young guys who were playing that year, and it had been a really emotional game. But I think you could sense something in that locker room. They were starting to understand now that they could play with anybody and have a chance to win. You just talk to them about how close they had come, how hard they had worked, and how close they were to winning. My teams, I always felt, earned the opportunity to win. We didn't always win every game because of that, but we always learned something that would help us as the season progressed. From that point on, Kaep was so ingrained in our offense, it was hard not to think about what was still to come and not be excited about it. He was the present and the future, no question about it. The team had shown something very special and had gone toe to toe with Boise. That counted for a lot.
KEVIN GRIMES: Even though it was a loss, I think after that game, we went the rest of our careers not putting Boise up on a pedestal. They were a great program and we certainly respected them, and to beat them, we knew we'd have to be at our best. But walking off the field that night, there was definitely a sense Boise is great, but we can beat them. Heck, we should have beat them that night.
CHRIS AULT: That particular night really seemed to grab people's attention. The next day, my office was flooded with calls and letters from people, many of whom weren't Wolf Pack fans, who just happened to watch the game that night. And to the person, they were saying it was one of the best games they'd ever seen. It was something.
JOHN BENDER: I'll be honest with you, I hadn't watched the game until this past summer. There was film the next day. But I was getting worked on for my injuries, so I missed the film session. This summer I watched the whole 2007 Boise game in its entirety. You remember your big victories a lot. They stay with you a long time, and for good reason. You don't like to remember the hard losses like that. But 2007, that's a unique one. It's one that stays with you as well.
The Wolf Pack would rally after the Boise game, winning four of its next six to finish 6-6 and qualify for the New Mexico Bowl. Over the next three seasons, Nevada would go 28-12, culminated by the Wolf Pack's 13-1 finish in 2010. Kaepernick would be chosen in the second round of the NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. He would lead the franchise to the Super Bowl following the 2012 season. In 2016, Kaepernick began taking a knee during the national anthem to bring attention to social justice issues in the country. Numerous NFL players began following his lead that season. Since the completion of the 2016 season, Kaepernick hasn't played in the NFL. He has brought a collusion suit against the NFL.
JOHN BENDER: I think Colin sleeps well at night. He knows what he's doing is right. It's too bad the thing that everybody has talked about, the kneeling thing, has been hijacked by other people for their political agenda. Colin hasn't said a lot about all of this, but when he speaks, he's very eloquent. The platform he used - kneeling for the national anthem - has been challenging for him to get his larger point across, particularly for the people who really don't want to listen to what he has to say. There's no question in my mind that he's among the top 32 quarterbacks in the world, and is probably in the top 20. There is no question about that. Yet he's not able to have a job. He's been prevented from going out and doing the thing he loves. That's been challenging for him, no question. But he's put his money where his mouth is. He's made and continues to make a huge difference for large groups of people who don't always have a voice.
On Nov. 26, 2010, on senior night at Mackay Stadium, Nevada beat Boise State, 34-31, in overtime.
JOHN BENDER: We had the opportunity to put a stamp on our careers at Nevada that night. A lot of teams are good and win a bowl game, but not many beat the No. 4 team in the country at their house on Senior Day. It's maybe the biggest win in school history, and I know until the day I die it's the biggest win I'm ever going to be associated with. We all had worked too hard over the previous four years to let it slip away. When it was there, we went out and got it.
LUKE LIPPINCOTT: The 2007 game was such a great game, and we all had wanted to win it so badly. In hindsight, maybe that was the reason why in 2010 we pulled it off. All those returning guys who had played that night in Boise had experienced the emptiness of giving it their all and not clinching it at the end. I'm 100 percent positive that 2010 game, it ran through their memories and they weren't going to let it happen again.
KEVIN GRIMES: I don't disagree with the idea that anytime you face adversity or go through struggles, it's those harder times where you grow. There is certainly an element of lessons learned in '07 that we carried forward with us. But maybe the more profound outcome of that game in '07 was the thought that, "We can take these guys, we've played them before, they're just like us, and we came so close before. Let's not let this one slip away." Obviously there is growth when you have those heart-breaking losses. But in 2010, late in the game, running through all our minds had to be, "Not again. Not here. This time is ours."
VAI TAUA: The 2010 game against Boise comes up pretty much all the time. If it's not us, it's someone around us who brings it up. For a lot of us who were there, it was the greatest game we ever played. That was the game that kind of stamped your career here ... the game you will never really forget. It comes up as such a great memory because of all the hard work we put in, how much we struggled, and how much adversity we overcame. It will last forever.
JOHN BENDER: We were always tired of losing to Boise. It's a long career I had at Nevada. I started 40-something games. It's interesting. The ones I remember most were the Boise games.
CHRIS AULT: When you look at the two games, the '07 and the 2010 games, and you see some of the themes, Kaep, the Brotzman kicks, the growth of our program and the growth of Kaep as a freshman from 2007 to being a senior in 2010, how 2007 introduced the Pistol to the nation. From that point on, things were never the same for us. I guess we should have played more Sunday night games.
THE VOICES OF "69-67"
CHRIS AULT, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, is retired and consults with numerous college and high school football programs throughout the country. He lives in Reno.
JOHN BENDER is a financial consultant at IG Wealth Management in Calgary, Alberta.
KEVIN GRIMES is a vice president/relationship manager at US Bank in Reno.
LUKE LIPPINCOTT is a safety and project manager for Spanish Springs Construction in Spanish Springs. Two years ago, while helping coach the Bishop Manogue Catholic High School freshman team, the Miners went undefeated.
VAI TAUA is assistant director of player personnel and recruiting for the University of Nevada Wolf Pack.