Nevada wide receiver Justin Lockhart makes a catch in front of Boise State cornerback Markel Reed on Oct. 2, 2021, in Boise, Idaho. (AP Photo/Steve Conner)
Jay Norvell has now turned into a ticket salesman.
“We’ve got a fun team to watch,” the Nevada Wolf Pack football coach said this week. “We want to get everybody in our community to come out and see us.”
This is the perfect time for Norvell to sell his program. His Wolf Pack (3-1, 1-0), after all, is coming off a 41-31 victory at Boise State and will play five of its next seven games at Mackay Stadium. New Mexico State comes to Mackay on Saturday followed by Hawaii (Oct. 16), UNLV (Oct. 29), San Jose State (Nov. 6) and Air Force (Nov. 19). The Wolf Pack, winners of five consecutive home games and 15 of their last 19 under Norvell, will likely be favored in each of their five remaining home games.
“Whenever you get to see a unique team it adds interest,” Norvell said. “This is a unique team. We have some guys doing some really amazing things at their positions.”
The largest home crowd (23,965) in the Norvell era (since 2017) showed up to see the Wolf Pack’s 49-10 victory over Idaho State at Mackay Stadium on Sept. 11. It was just the third crowd at Mackay since Norvell came to town of 20,000 or over.
“These (players) aren’t going to be here forever,” Norvell said. “I encourage people to come out and see (quarterback) Carson Strong. I encourage them to come see (tight end) Cole Turner. I encourage them to see (wide receiver) Romeo Doubs and (defensive linemen) Dom Peterson and Sam Hammond. These are special players.”
Norvell is well aware that attendance at Mackay Stadium can jump dramatically if the student body shows up.
“We want to get our students excited about this football team,” he said. “Our kids feed off that energy. We had a great atmosphere (for the Idaho State game). I think it can be better.”
LOCKHART CONTRIBUTES: Wolf Pack wide receiver Justin Lockhart caught five passes for 94 yards, including a career-high 39-yarder, in the win over Boise State.
“Justin Lockhart’s plays in the game really gave us a shot in the arm,” Norvell said.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Lockhart had just four catches for 38 yards over the Pack’s first three games. His 94 yards against Boise State were just one yard short of his career high of 95 against Utah State last season.
“We really needed him to step up,” Norvell said.
Lockhart became more of a focus for the offense against Boise State because of a season-ending foot injury to wide receiver Elijah Cooks two weeks ago. Lockhart, who is from Los Angeles, now has 41 catches and two touchdowns in his Pack career, which began in 2019.
PACK ROAD WARRIORS: The Wolf Pack has now won three of its last four games away from Mackay Stadium.
The Pack beat Tulane in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl to end the 2020 season and also won at California and Boise State this season. The successful stretch on the road has come after back-to-back losses away from Mackay last year against Hawaii and San Jose State that kept the Pack out of the Mountain West title game.
“I think going on the road at Cal and Kansas State really helped our team become battle tested and really helped us for this (Boise State) game,” Norvell said.
Norvell lost his first eight road games as Wolf Pack head coach. He has, however, won 12 of his last 20 games away from Mackay Stadium. The Wolf Pack has just three road games left in the regular season: Fresno State (Oct. 23), San Diego State (Nov. 13) and Colorado State (Nov. 27).
BACKUP BOOSTS HAWAII TO UPSET: Hawaii stunned Fresno State, 27-24, on Saturday with a freshman quarterback in his first college start.
Brayden Schager tossed two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter as Hawaii rallied from a 24-10 deficit. Regular starting quarterback Chevan Cordeiro missed the game because of a shoulder injury.
“I told you he’s a special talent,” Hawaii coach Todd Graham said of Schager. “You guys can now see the great promise he has.”
Schager was told last Tuesday he would start against Fresno State, though Cordeiro was still listed as the Hawaii starter going into the game.
“I just prepared the same as I’ve prepared all year,” said Schager, who had just six pass attempts this season before Saturday’s game. “I just kind of went from there.”
Schager was just 11-of-27 for 116 yards against Fresno State but his performance was saved by touchdown passes of 26 yards to Caleb Phillips and 18 to Calvin Miller.
“I was pretty nervous going into the game,” Schager said. “I was struggling there for a while. But my teammates picked me up. The offensive line always believed in me. Our receivers, the running backs, they just believed in me the whole time, kept telling me to pick my head up and told me I was going to win the game in the end.”
TAUA HEARD THE MUSIC: Wolf Pack running back Toa Taua, who had 124 yards and two touchdowns against Boise State, felt like it was 2010 all over again last Saturday.
Taua was in the stands in 2010 at Mackay Stadium the night the Pack beat Boise State 34-31 in overtime.
“I remember they played that song (in 2010), ‘Don’t Stop Believin’,” said Taua of the song made famous by Journey in 1981. “I was on the sideline (on Saturday) and heard that song again. I just said to myself, ‘We can’t lose this game now.’”