ALBUQUERQUE — The Arizona Wildcats were doomed.
Then, they pulled off one of the most stunning finishes in bowl history.
Quarterback Matt Scott threw two touchdown passes in the final 42 seconds, and the UA stunned Nevada 49-48 at the New Mexico Bowl. The second score, a 2-yard pass to Tyler Slavin, tied the game with 19 seconds remaining; kicker John Bonano hit the point-after kick to give the UA its first lead of the game, played in front of 24,610 at University Stadium.
First-year coach Rich Rodriguez called the win "improbable"; the Wildcats led for just 19 total seconds, at the end of the game. The team overcame deficits of 21 and 13 points on separate occasions to finish with its first postseason win since 2008.
"It's not easy to come back from that situation," Scott said. "You're not necessarily going to think the most positive thing at the time, but we went out there and took care of business. It was just a big drive. I still can't believe it."
The game-winning drive came after Arizona's Marquis Flowers recovered Bonano's onside kick after it bounced off the chest of Nevada's Duke Williams. Scott then led the Wildcats on a three-play, 51-yard drive.
"When we got it, I really couldn't believe it. It seemed like a dream," he said. "Like Coach Rich Rod said, it doesn't happen every day. But we got the onside kick, got the ball down the field and won the game."
For most of the game, Scott and Arizona appeared destined to lose.
Nevada (7-6) led by three points at halftime, and its lead grew to 10 following a 33-yard touchdown pass from Cody Fajardo to Richy Turner; 6 minutes later, Fajardo ran in a 1-yard touchdown to make it a 17-point game.
Arizona cut the lead to 45-35 when Scott found Austin Hill for a 63-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats forced Nevada to punt on its next possession, but went three-and-out from the shadow of their own end zone and were forced to punt. Nevada hit a field goal with 1:48 remaining to make it 48-35. Scott then led the team for two scores, touchdown passes to Hill and Slavin. Scott was named the offensive player of the game; Flowers, who also intercepted a Nevada pass on the Wolf Pack's final play, was the defensive MVP.
While Arizona was up and down all game, Ka'Deem Carey was his steady self.
The sophomore running back rushed for 168 yards and three touchdowns, ensuring that he'll finish the season with the most rushing yards per game of anybody in college football. Carey leads with 1,925 rushing yards, too, but must wait to see how Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch fares in the Orange Bowl before he can be crowned rushing champ.
"It was an overall great season this season," he said. "I had teammates that pushed me in the weight room; I had coach pushing me on the field. Without them, I couldn't have gone this far."
Nevada's Stephon Jefferson actually outran Carey today, posting 180 yards on 34 carries and scoring two touchdowns, but the margin wasn't enough for the Wolf Pack star to leapfrog Carey in total yards or yards per game.
Wolf Pack quarterback Cody Fajardo threw for 256 yards and three touchdowns, and ran 22 times for 140 yards. Scott completed more than half (28) of his pass attempts (47) for 382 yards and a three scores, and was intercepted twice.
The UA (8-5) came back from a three-touchdowns deficit in the first quarter to tie the game at 21 and, later, 28, before Nevada's Allen Hardison hit a field goal at the end of the first half to give Nevada the lead.
The late kick overshadowed a brilliant first quarter by Carey. The sophomore rushed for 145 first-half yards and three touchdowns. His second score set the UA mark for rushing touchdowns in a season.
The first bowl game of the 2012 season came with some drama. UA defensive tackle Tevin Hood and linebacker Cody Ippolito got into a fight on the Wildcats' sideline as the first quarter ended. Ippolito, a freshman from Scottsdale, was sent to the locker room; two drives later, Hood — the team's first-team nose tackle — followed him. Both were then sent away from Arizona's sideline, and watched the rest of the game from elsewhere inside the stadium.
Nevada's Zach Sudfeld caught two touchdown passes in a 14-second span, sparking the Wolf Pack to a 21-0 lead. The team scored a touchdown on its first drive, when Jefferson a 16-yard score. After Arizona punted, Fajardo found Sudfeld for his first score, a 17-yard grab over the middle. The UA's Jared Baker muffed the ensuing kickoff, and Nevada recovered; one play later, Fajardo found Sudfeld for a 28-yard score.
Arizona rallied back. Aided by Carey's big runs and good decisions by Scott, the Wildcats scored 21 consecutive points over an eight-minute span. After Jefferson's touchdown made it 28-21, the Wildcats drove 75 yards in six plays. Carey's nine-yard run tied the game at 28.