Nevada's coaches and players watched Fresno State nearly knock off top-ranked USC on television last week so they understood why nobody gave them much of a chance to upset the 16th-ranked Bulldogs.
They ended up claiming one of the biggest wins in school history Saturday night as Robert Hubbard ran for 146 yards and three touchdowns and Jeff Rowe hit Nichiren Flowers with a 12-yard scoring pass with 1:29 remaining to hold on for a 38-35 victory.
The win snapped Fresno State's 12-game winning streak in the Western Athletic Conference while earning the Wolf Pack at least a share of the WAC title and their first bowl appearance since 1997.
"People were telling us we didn't have a chance," Hubbard said. "The only people that believed were the people in the locker room and the coaches."
Paul Pinegar threw a 3-yard TD pass to Matt Rivera and then a 2-point pass to Joe Fernandez to make it 38-35 with 31 seconds left, but Nevada's Anthony Pudewell recovered an onside kick to secure the victory in a crazy finish played without the stadium clock the final 6 minutes.
"That's one of the greatest efforts by a team I've ever been associated with," said Nevada coach Chris Ault, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame in his 21st season.
"Our kids played as hard as they possibly could, gave it everything they had and my hat's off to them," he said. "We're just tickled pink to have a chance to go to a bowl game."
Pinegar completed 30-of-45 passes for 405 yards and four touchdowns a week after Fresno State put a scare into the Trojans before falling 50-42. The Bulldogs have already accepted an invitation to play in the Liberty Bowl.
Fernandez had nine catches for a career-record 150 yards.
Nevada (8-3, 7-1) got a pair of turnovers in the final 7 minutes to overcome 17 straight points in the second half by Fresno State (8-3, 6-1). The Bulldogs close the season next Friday hosting Louisiana Tech.
Boise State also finished its season 7-1 in the WAC, so if Fresno State wins its finale there will be a three-way tie atop the conference.
"The better team won tonight. They outplayed us and deserved to win the football game," Fresno State coach Pat Hill said.
"It wasn't something we did poorly. It was executing by them. Rowe had a big night and he was very efficient. They outperformed us in every aspect of the game," he said.
The WAC is assured spots in two bowls - the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl at Honolulu and the MPC Computers Bowl at Boise. Boise State is expected to play at the game in Boise and Nevada likely will end up in Hawaii.
"They (the Wolf Pack) are guaranteed a bowl spot, but until we know how it shakes out we won't know where," WAC Commissioner Karl Benson said Saturday night. He said Nevada's showing could earn it a spot outside the two WAC bowl tie-ins.
Rowe completed 14-of-22 passes for 189 yards and B.J. Mitchell added 77 yards rushing for Nevada.
Hubbard scored on a 13-yard draw play to end a 17-0 run by the Bulldogs and put the Wolf Pack ahead 31-27 with 8:12 left.
Fresno State trailed by as much as 14 points late in the second quarter and didn't take its first lead until Pinegar lobbed a 3-yard TD pass to Paul Williams then hit Jamison for the 2-point conversion to make it 27-24 with 12:29 left in the game.
The Wolf Pack led 17-3 early and 24-10 late in the second quarter before Pinegar hit Jamison for a 20-yard touchdown 40 seconds before the half to cut it to 24-16.
Kyle Zimmerman missed that extra point, but made a 38-yard field goal midway through the third quarter to pull the Bulldogs to within 24-19.
Nevada scored on its first three possessions as Rowe completed seven of his first 10 attempts, opening a 17-3 lead on the second play of the second quarter when Hubbard ran 21 yards off tackle untouched into the end zone.
Fresno State responded with a 74-yard drive, including Pinegar's 30-yard pass to Fernandez at Nevada's 12 yard line and a 5-yard TD pass to Jamison on a fourth-and-3 to cut it to 17-10 in the second quarter.
Nevada responded with a 78-yard scoring drive, capped by Hubbard's 6-yard run around right end for his second touchdown and a 24-10 lead 6:29 before the half.
But on the last series of the quarter, Pinegar had five consecutive completions to Fernandez and Jamison, capped by the 20-yard scoring pass to Jamison to cut Nevada's halftime lead to 24-16.
Rowe led Nevada on a 97-yard drive for it's first touchdown. He hooked up with Sammons on a 52-yard pass play and threw 16 yards to Hubbard before running 10 yards around the right end himself, diving for the pylon for a 10-0 lead at 3:58 in the first quarter.