From Tommy Kalmanir to Cody Fajardo with Mike Crawford, Rishard Matthews, Chris Vargas, B.J. Mitchell and others in between, the Wolf Pack has had many memorable individual performances in bowl games down through the years.
The latest great performance came from Fajardo in last week’s New Mexico Bowl against Arizona.
The Wolf Pack football program might have just a 4-9 record in bowl games but there is no shortage of outstanding individual moments to treasure.
A look at the top individual performances by a Wolf Pack player in a bowl game . . .
ZACH SUDFELD (two touchdown catches vs. Arizona, 2012), KAELIN BURNETT (two sacks, one forced fumble vs. Boston College, 2010); VAI TAUA (101 yards rushing, one TD rushing, one TD receiving vs. Maryland, 2008), MARKO MITCHELL (5 catches, 130 yards, one TD vs. Maryland, 2008); JON AMAYA (one interception, one tackle for a loss vs. Maryland, 2008); DONTAY MOCH (two sacks, two forced fumbles vs. Maryland, 2008); JOSH MAUGA (11 tackles, one forced fumble vs. New Mexico, 2007), BRETT JAEKLE (four field goals vs. Miami, 2006), EZRA BUTLER (9 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks vs. Miami, 2006), CALEB SPENCER (11 catches, 114 yards vs. Central Florida, 2005), ROOSEVELT COOKS (16 tackles vs. Central Florida, 2005), KIN MINOR (three rushing touchdowns vs. Toledo, 1995), DAMOND WILKINS (10 catches, 106 yards, two receiving touchdowns vs. Ball State, 1996).
And now the Top 10 . . .
10. (tie) LAMPFORD MARK, HAWAII BOWL (Dec. 24, 2011)
STEFPHON JEFFERSON, NEW MEXICO BOWL (Dec. 15, 2012)
Mark waited almost four years to become the Wolf Pack’s starting running back. He finally was given the job in the second half of the 2011 season and he rewarded the Pack with the greatest performance by a Pack back in a bowl game.
Jefferson waited until his third season to take over as the No. 1 Pack back and he had a season to remember.
Mark, a senior in 2011, carried the ball 29 times for a school bowl-record 183 yards in a 24-17 loss to Southern Mississippi in the Hawaii Bowl. Mark also scored two touchdowns and did not fumble once.
Jefferson carried the ball a Wolf Pack bowl-record 34 times in a 49-48 loss to Arizona in the New Mexico Bowl and gave Mark’s school-record bowl rushing record a run for its money, finishing with 180 yards. Jefferson also scored two touchdowns.
The difference between Mark and Jefferson, though, were Jefferson’s three fumbles. He lost one of them to Arizona and the third one cost him playing time in the fourth quarter or else he might have gone over 200 yards.
Mark had a pair of 40-plus yard runs against Southern Miss, including a 45-yarder that gave the Pack a 14-7 lead in the second quarter. His 5-yard score earlier tied the game 7-7. Mark also had a run of 43 yards early in the game as well as a 25-yarder and a 15-yarder and 11-yarder. He had just three carries when he failed to at least get back to the line of scrimmage.
Jefferson had a 16-yard score for a 7-0 lead against Arizona and a 17-yard touchdown for a 28-21 lead. Ten of his carries went for first downs.
9. STAN HEATH to TOMMY KALMANIR, SALAD BOWL
Jan. 1, 1948
It was just one play. One pass. One remarkable play. And it gave the Wolf Pack its first bowl victory in its very first bowl game.
With the Wolf Pack trailing 6-0 to the North Texas State Eagles in the inaugural Salad Bowl in Phoenix, quarterback Stan Heath dropped back into the end zone from his own 3-yard line. Heath, who would later play quarterback for the Green Bay Packers in the NFL, found one of the greatest players in Wolf Pack history.
Heath tossed the ball over 50 yards in the air and hit Tommy Kalmanir in stride for an eye-opening touchdown and a 7-6 Pack lead. The Nevada State Journal estimated that the play, starting from the spot Heath released the ball five yards deep into the end zone, covered 105 yards.
The 93-yard Heath-to-Kalmanir touchdown is still the second longest pass completion in NCAA bowl game history behind a 95-yard strike from Oklahoma’s Ronnie Fletcher to Ben Hart in the Jan. 2, 1965 Gator Bowl against Florida State.
The Wolf Pack would beat North Texas 13-6 in a heated game. The Pack originally declined to play in the game because North Texas wasn’t a big-name opponent. That angered North Texas and when the Pack finally decided to go to Phoenix for the game, the Eagles were waiting.
The Heath-to-Kalmanir play, though, stunned North Texas and it remains the longest play ever in Wolf Pack bowl history.
The Salad Bowl would last four just four more years before vanishing forever.
8. MIKE MAXWELL to ALEX VAN DYKE, LAS VEGAS BOWL
Dec. 14, 1995
The Wolf Pack returned to the Las Vegas Bowl for the second time in four years and found itself in a shootout between two of the top offenses in the nation.
All eyes were on the Wolf Pack passing game of quarterback Mike Maxwell and wide receiver Alex Van Dyke and the Toledo Rockets running game with Wasean Tait.
Tait, who would finish second in the nation with 173 yards a game in 1995, would win the battle by running for 185 yards and four touchdowns in the first overtime game in NCAA history (40-37 Toledo).
But Van Dyke and Maxwell, playing in their final Wolf Pack game, would also turn in two of the greatest Wolf Pack bowl performances in history.
Van Dyke, who would be a second round pick by the New York Jets a few months later, would catch 14 passes from Maxwell for 176 yards. Van Dyke didn’t get into the end zone himself but he was the big reason why the Pack scored four touchdowns on short runs (three by Kin Minor) and kick three field goals.
Maxwell would complete 27-of-49 passes for 330 yards without a touchdown or an interception.
One possible reason why Van Dyke and Maxwell didn’t hook up for a touchdown is because head coach Chris Ault removed Maxwell from the game in favor of backup quarterback Eric Bennett when the Pack got inside the 5-yard line. Bennett, a better runner than Maxwell, would score on a 4-yard run himself in the third quarter but he was 0-for-2 through the air.
Maxwell, as usual, was brilliant against Toledo. He didn’t toss a touchdown but he did come close, connecting with Cornel West for 20 yards on the Pack’s first play in overtime down to the 5-yard line. But Ault inserted Bennett at that point and the Pack failed to score on three plays from the five and had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Damon Shea. Tait then won the game on Toledo’s first OT drive on a 2-yard touchdown run.
Van Dyke’s 14 catches at the time were tied for the fourth most in NCAA bowl history and remain a Pack bowl record to this day. Van Dyke would lead the nation in receiving in 1995 with 129 catches. Maxwell would lead the nation in passing with 3,611 yards and 33 touchdowns.
7. COLIN KAEPERNICK to MIKE McCOY, HUMANITARIAN BOWL
Dec. 30, 2008
Bowl games do not fill up the Colin Kaepernick highlight film when he was a Wolf Pack quarterback. But there was one cold afternoon in Boise when Kaepernick thrilled a national television audience during bowl season.
The sophomore did his best to keep up with the Maryland Terrapins and running back Da’Rel Scott two days before the new year. Scott would run for 174 yards and two touchdowns in a little more than a half (he was benched the first 1 ½ quarters) as Maryland would take a 42-35 victory in front of 30,223 fans.
But Kaepernick and wide receiver Mike McCoy made Scott and Maryland work for the victory.
Kaepernick aired it out against the Terrapins, completing 24-of-47 passes for 370 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran the ball nine times for 15 yards and another touchdown. The 370 passing yards remain a Wolf Pack bowl record.
McCoy came within one catch of the Nevada school record for bowl game receptions, grabbing 13 passes for 172 yards.
Kaepernick’s first TD pass went to Chris Wellington from a yard out in the first quarter as the Pack took its only lead of the game at 7-6. Kaepernick also tossed a 17-yard touchdown pass to running back Vai Taua to cut Maryland‘s lead to 28-21 and followed that up with a 21-yard TD strike to Marko Mitchell to tie the game at 28-28 early in the fourth quarter.
His 15-yard touchdown run closed the scoring with 2:19 to play. Kaepernick, who also had a 68-yard completion to Mitchell, turned in a gritty performance, battling through three sacks by the Maryland defense.
McCoy also had a gutsy performance, catching 13 of the 18 passes Kaepernick tossed his way. The wide receiver didn’t catch a touchdown pass but nine of his catches went for first downs, including a 38-yarder.
6. B.J. MITCHELL, ROBERT HUBBARD, HAWAII BOWL
Dec. 24, 2005
B.J. Mitchell and Robert Hubbard simply chewed up Central Florida.
Mitchell carried the ball 23 times for 178 yards and two touchdowns and Hubbard went for 126 yards and three touchdowns on just 15 carries as the Pack ran for 369 yards on the ground in the 49-48 overtime victory.
Hubbard scored on a 4-yard run to cut Central Florida’s lead to 14-7 in the first quarter and Mitchell scored a pair of 1-yard touchdowns in the second quarter as the Pack rallied to take a 21-20 halftime lead. Hubbard gave the Pack a 28-17 lead in the third quarter on a 24-yard run and later scored on a 5-yard run to give the Pack a 35-32 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Mitchell exploded for 59 yards on his fifth carry of the game to set up Hubbard’s first touchdown from four yards out. Hubbard then set up Mitchell’s first 1-yard score, gaining 49 yards down to the 1 as the Pack cut Central Florida’s lead to 17-14.
Mitchell was named the Wolf Pack’s MVP of the game.
Mitchell had seven 100-yard games in 2005 and Hubbard had two. The Central Florida game was the only time they each had over 100 in the same game.
5. JEFF ROWE, HAWAII BOWL
Dec. 24, 2005
Christmas Eve 2005 was the night the nation discovered Chris Ault’s pistol offense.
The Pack piled up 623 total yards in beating Central Florida 49-48 in overtime. Running backs Robert Hubbard and B.J. Mitchell combined for 304 yards and five touchdowns on the ground and Jeff Rowe took care of everything else.
The former McQueen High quarterback completed 22-of-32 passes for 254 yards and one touchdown, a 7-yard pass to Travis Branzell for a 42-32 lead. He tossed 11 of his completions (and 15 of his passes) to wide receiver Caleb Spencer for 114 yards. Rowe also connected six times for 96 yards with Nichiren Flowers.
Rowe had five completions of 10 yards or more to Spencer and two to Flowers, one of which covered 54 yards to set up a Pack score.
Rowe demonstrated the pistol in all its glory (at the time), also rushing for 65 yards and a game-winning 4-yard touchdown run in overtime on 13 carries. He had five carries of eight yards or longer.
This was the first game in which a pistol quarterback had rushed for at least 50 yards and passed for at least 250.
4. CHRIS VARGAS, LAS VEGAS BOWL
Dec. 18, 1992
Captain Comeback almost did it again against Bowling Green in the inaugural Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Silver Bowl.
Chris Vargas, who engineered the greatest comeback (35 points) in Division I-AA history in 1991 against Weber State, was on his way to performing another miracle in the Wolf Pack’s first bowl game since the 1948 season.
Entering the game in relief of starting quarterback Fred Gatlin (just like in the Weber State game 411 days earlier), Vargas and the Wolf Pack faced a daunting 28-3 deficit as a national television audience on ESPN looked on. Bowling Green quarterback Eric White tossed a 10-yard TD to LeRoy Smith and Smith returned the favor with an 8-yard TD pass to Smith to help build the 25-point lead for the Falcons.
Vargas then proceeded to shred the Bowling Green defense.
Running a no-huddle attack and devouring the Falcons with numerous middle screens, Vargas and the Pack scored 31 unanswered points to take a stunning 34-28 lead. Vargas tossed touchdown passes to Mike Senior (5 yards) and Tom Matter (3 yards). Dedric Holmes (5 yards) and wide receiver Bryan Reeves (3 yards) scored on short runs. Steve Terelak added a 19-yard field goal with 7:13 to go to give the Pack its 34-28 lead.
The Wolf Pack lost the game when punter Steve Lester fumbled a snap, giving Bowling Green the ball at the Nevada 15 with 1:48 to play. White would eventually connect with Dave Hankins for a 3-yard touchdown on fourth down with 22 seconds left to beat the Pack.
Vargas, though, was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. In a little more than a half, Vargas completed 24-of-40 passes for two touchdowns and 283 yards. He also ran for 22 yards on four carries.
“We were embarrassed in the second half, “ Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault said after the game. “But in the second half we showed what Wolf Pack football is all about.
“Vargas did a tremendous job,” Bowling Green coach Gary Blackney said.
3. RISHARD MATTHEWS, KRAFT FIGHT HUNGER BOWL
Jan. 9, 2011
On a team with a ton of senior stars, it was a junior who capped the Wolf Pack’s best season in school history. Wide receiver Rishard Matthews provided all the offense the Wolf Pack needed at San Francisco’s AT&T Park against the Boston College Eagles.
Matthews hauled in a 27-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Colin Kaepernick to pull the Pack into a 7-7 tie with the Boston College Eagles as the largest crowd to ever watch a Pack bowl game (41,063) looked on.
And just a little over two minutes later Matthews put the Pack on top to stay.
Matthews settled under a Ryan Quigley punt at his own 28-yard line and promptly returned it 72 yards for a touchdown to give the Pack a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter. The great individual play by Matthews, on a night when the normally potent Pack offense struggled, proved to be the winning points in an eventual 20-13 Wolf Pack victory.
The punt return touchdown was the third different way Matthews scored a touchdown in 2010 after grabbing five touchdown passes and running for two scores. He would also return a punt for a touchdown in 2011 as a senior.
Matthews also caught seven passes against Boston College for 86 yards, with five of his catches going for first downs.
2. CODY FAJARDO, NEW MEXICO BOWL
Dec. 15, 2012
Fajardo turned in a wonderful performance in the 49-48 loss to Arizona.
In a gritty performance reminiscent of Kaepernick against Maryland, Fajardo battled through a physical game to complete 22-of-31 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns and run for 140 yards and a touchdown.
The 396 yards passing and rushing combined are a Wolf Pack bowl record (Kaepernick had 385 against Maryland). Fajardo was responsible for four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing), equaling Kaepernick’s school record against Maryland.
The only thing missing from Fajardo’s afternoon, like Kaepernick’s, was a victory.
Fajardo, though, did all he could to end the Pack’s frustrating season with a victory. He tossed a pair of touchdown passes to tight end Zach Sudfeld in the first quarter as the Pack took a commanding 21-0 lead.
He found a wide open Richy Turner on a 33-yard touchdown pass for a 38-28 lead with nine minutes to go in the third quarter and eight minutes later, after sitting out a play after a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit by two Arizona defenders, scored on a 1-yard run himself for a 45-28 lead.
The pistol offense never looked better as Fajardo engineered a NCAA-record 39 first downs. The Pack also gained 659 total yards (4-3 rushing) and held the ball for 39:10.
The similarities between Kaepernick’s effort against Maryland and Fajardo’s against Arizona are numerous. The Pack lost both games to BCS schools, both quarterbacks had to fight through a grueling, physical game and both were sophomores at the time.
1. MIKE CRAWFORD, LAS VEGAS BOWL
Dec. 19, 1996
Nobody has ever played better in a bowl game for the Wolf Pack than Mike Crawford.
Crawford, who came to the Wolf Pack as a walk-on linebacker from Whittell High School, had three sacks, forced a fumble and intercepted a pass as the Wolf Pack won its first bowl game in nearly 50 years, beating the Ball State Cardinals 18-15.
Crawford was named the game’s Most Valuable Player and remains the only defensive player in the history of the 20-year-old bowl game to win MVP.
Crawford’s performance also stands out in Wolf Pack history because it came on the defensive side of the ball.
“I think our defense made a statement to the future of Wolf Pack football,” Pack head coach Jeff Tisdel said after the game standing on the Silver Bowl field.
It’s a future that has yet to arrive but for one magical evening Crawford made it a reality.
The Wolf Pack jumped out to a 9-0 lead thanks to a 16-yard touchdown pass from John Dutton to Damond Wilkins and a 22-yard field goal by Damon Shea. Wilkins would later haul in an 11-yard scoring pass from backup Eric Bennett as the Pack went ahead 18-7.
Ball State, though, scored on a 27-yard pass from quarterback Brent Baldwin to Adrian Reese and then added the two point conversion with 2:26 to play to cut the Pack lead to 18-15. The Cardinals then recovered an on-sides kick and had the ball at the Pack 46-yard line.
Crawford, though, stepped in front of a Baldwin pass at midfield, picked it off, and secured the Pack victory.
“We had the right coverage called and I was freed up,” Crawford said after the game, “I just watched his (Baldwin’s) eyes, I jumped up and looked in my hands and I saw I had the ball. I was just in the right place at the right time.”