RENO - The Top 10 special teams plays of the 2010 Nevada Wolf Pack football season ...
10. Getting the ball rolling
It took the Wolf Pack about 10 seconds to show everyone that this year was going to be a ton of fun. Sophomore Mike Ball took the first kickoff of the season and returned it 57 yards to the Eastern Washington 33-yard line on Sept. 2 at Mackay Stadium. Ball's return - it would be his second longest kickoff return of the season - set up the Pack's first touchdown of the year.
Thanks to Ball's crowd-pleasing opening act, it took the Pack just four plays and less than two minutes on its first drive of the year to take its first lead (7-0) of the season. It set the tone for a 49-24 victory over the eventual Division I-AA national champion Eagles.
9. Langley pins Eagles back
The Wolf Pack didn't call on punter Brad Langley often in 2010 (just 37 punts all year) but when they did the senior usually did a nice job. Langley's best and most effective punt of the year took place in the season opener against Eastern Washington. He booted a perfectly-placed 41-yard punt down to the 2-yard line where it was downed by his teammates.
The punt was not only a thing of beauty. It was desperately needed at a time when the Pack, ahead just 35-24 early in the fourth quarter, still couldn't seem to put away the plucky Eagles. Spurred on by Langley's punt, the Pack defense rose up and forced Eastern Washington to fumble away the ball a few plays later.
The Wolf Pack offense would take over at the Eagles 20-yard line and score a game-securing touchdown three plays later for a 42-24 lead with 10 minutes to go. Langley's punt set it all up. It also would be Langley's only punt this season that was downed inside the 5-yard line.
8. Martinez grabs hold of starting job
Anthony Martinez seized an opportunity this season and never let go. With last season's starting placekicker, Ricky Drake, serving the second game of a two-game suspension, Martinez burst onto the Pack scene against Colorado State on Sept. 11 at Mackay Stadium. The red-shirt freshman from McQueen High, who stands just 5-foot-6, drilled three field goals in three attempts from 31, 33 and 22 yards out in the Pack's 51-6 victory.
The Western Athletic Conference named Martinez its Special Teams Player of the Week the following Monday. Martinez was the only Pack player to win the special teams award in 2010 and the first Pack player to win it since kick returner Dwayne Sanders in the fifth week of 2007. The three field goals against Colorado State definitely kick-started Martinez's unforgettable freshman year. Those three field goals, though, were just the first of his many great moments of 2010.
7. Martinez bails out Pack pistol
The Wolf Pack offense looked like it was playing in six inches of mud on the night of Jan. 9 at the Kraft Bowl. The Boston College Eagles defense was taking all of the pop out of the Pack pistol. The Pack would end up scoring just one offensive touchdown all evening.
That's why it was extremely important that Anthony Martinez be perfect on this night. The freshman kicked two field goals in the second and third quarters to keep the Pack in the lead. He drilled a 32-yarder for a 17-7 lead with 5:48 left in the second quarter and a 27-yarder with 1:17 left in the third quarter for a 20-10 lead. Those two kicks would prove to be the Pack's last six points of the season in a 20-13 bowl victory.
6. Faddis, Langley bury Boston College
The more the evening progressed, the more it became obvious that both teams' offenses would go home hungry after the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
Special teams were crucial at AT&T Park. And the Pack special teams came up big. Ahead just 17-10 and punting from his own 41-yard line with eight minutes to play in the third quarter, Brad Langley sent a marvelous 50-yard punt into the Bay area night sky, backing Boston College's Bobby Swigert back to his own 9-yard line.
The Wolf Pack's Dean Faddis then backed Swigert up another two yards. Faddis, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound sophomore strong safety, drilled Swigert into the AT&T turf for an inspiring (for the Pack, that is) tackle and 2-yard loss. The play by Langley and especially Faddis was crucial for the Pack in a game where every yard, every point was meaningful. Boston College was forced to begin its drive at its own 7-yard line and eventually was forced to punt from the 11.
The Pack, thanks to its excellent field position, would get a 27-yard field goal by Martinez on its next drive for a huge 20-10 lead at the end of the third quarter.
5. Ball nearly makes history
The Wolf Pack has not returned a kickoff for a touchdown since Del Bates went 89 yards against Boise State in 1998. Mike Ball, though, nearly ended that drought this season at Hawaii. The sophomore from Las Vegas settled under a Hawaii kickoff early in the fourth quarter at the goal line on the night of Oct. 16. Trailing 20-7, the Pack needed something big to happen. And it needed it soon. Ball delivered, returning the kickoff 84 yards to the Hawaii 16-yard line. The Pack would score three plays later to cut the deficit 20-14 with 9:30 to go.
The Wolf Pack would eventually lose, 27-21, but Ball had done his job. The 84-yard kick return is the Pack's longest since it became a member of the Western Athletic Conference in 2000 and is the longest since Bates took one to the house last century.
4. Pack takes life out of Livas
The sight of Phillip Livas settling under a punt or kickoff is enough to make any opposing special teams player a little nervous. The Louisiana Tech return specialist, after all, tied a NCAA record this season with his eighth career kick or punt return touchdown. He tied the record just a week before the Wolf Pack had to go to Ruston, La., to play the Bulldogs.
So the Pack heard all the hype surrounding the little (5-foot-8) and speedy Livas. The Wolf Pack game, in the season finale on Dec. 4, was Livas' one final shot to own the record all by himself. The Wolf Pack, though, wouldn't allow that to happen. In a game that ended up being more of a struggle than anticipated (the Pack would win 35-17 to clinch a share of the WAC title), the Pack kicked off to Livas six times and punted to him once. Punter Brad Langley did the honors on the lone Pack punt, driving Livas out of bounds after an 18-yard return.
The Wolf Pack also kept Livas in check on five of the six kickoffs, holding him to returns of 25 yards or less each time. Kevin Grimes nailed him after just a 20-yard return in the second quarter and Nick Hale blasted him after just a 19-yard return in the third quarter. The only time Livas broke free and could smell the end zone was on a 60-yard return to the Pack 31 before kicker Ricky Drake drove him out of bounds. The Pack kick coverage teams, though, had done its job against one of the more explosive return men in college football history.
3. Martinez pulls Pack even with Boise State
Anthony Martinez's first field goal against Boise State on Nov. 26 just might be the most overlooked, forgotten, important, crucial field goal in Pack history because of what was to come. But when the freshman lined up to attempt a 23-yarder with 5:14 left in the game, the entire Pack season was riding on his shoulders. Martinez walked onto the field with those five-plus minutes left and the Pack trailing 24-21 after having missed four of his last five field goal attempts.
And his last miss still was very fresh in his mind. Boise batted his 35-yard attempt back in his face in the third quarter with the Pack trailing 24-7. So the 23-yarder he was about to kick, to cap off a frantic, incredible 17-points-in-eight-minutes comeback, was certainly not automatic. And a miss, well, it would have drained the life out of the Pack comeback. Martinez, though, coolly and calmly made it, tying the game at 24-24. The confidence he gained by making that kick with 5:14 left would serve him well a few minutes later.
2. Matthews ignites pro-Pack Kraft Bowl crowd
It was the best run at AT&T Park since Aaron Rowand tripled in Edgar Renteria from first base and Juan Uribe from third in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the World Series. Rishard Matthews grabbed a Ryan Quigley punt at his own 28-yard line with the Pack and Boston College Eagles tied at 7-7 on Jan. 9 in the Kraft Bowl. He sliced his way through the Eagles for a dramatic, historic punt return touchdown and a 14-7 Pack lead with 2:27 left in the first quarter. It was Matthews' second touchdown in a span of just 73 seconds after earlier grabbing a 27-yard touchdown pass. And it would be the last Pack TD of the season. Matthews' touchdown is the first Wolf Pack punt return TD since Marlon McLaughlin went 73 yards against Louisiana Tech in 2001. Matthews' one-man show provided just enough cushion for a 20-13 bowl victory and allowed the Pack to cap off this memorable season the right way.
1. "It is Martinez with the win! Nevada has done it!"
Those words, spoken by ESPN play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore on Nov. 26, are now part of Nevada history.
Anthony Martinez, a kid who didn't even know if he would play this season, ended up putting the biggest exclamation mark on the biggest victory in Wolf Pack history with his right foot. Martinez's 34-yard field goal in overtime out of a hold by Brad Langley gave the Pack an improbable 34-31 victory over Boise State, bursting the Broncos' BCS bubble.
Martinez, lined up perfectly centered between the hash marks, kicked it even more perfectly down the middle toward the "S" in the All State net behind the goal posts for the victory, sending Tessitore into his "Do you believe in Miracles?" moment. Martinez made sure all Pack fans believed on this night.