Eric Ward’s game-winning touchdown catch Saturday was proof that not every play works the way it’s drawn up. Sometimes quarterback and receiver have to improvise.
Seth Doege’s throw and Ward’s touchdown catch on fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line completed a comeback that lifted Texas Tech past Nevada 35-34 at Jones AT&T Stadium. Doege looked right, then drifted to his left and all the way back to the 17-yard line before turning it loose to Ward in the back left of the end zone.
The play took eight seconds to unfold — eight seconds that might have felt like 80 to the more than 55,000 fans in the stands.
“It was originally a post, but then Doege checked me something else,” Ward said. “Obviously that play didn’t work out. I knew we had to go back to what we practice on, and that’s scramble rules, so when he started scrambling I knew I had to get open. I did the best job I could to get open, and it worked out.”
Doege was able to make amends for dropping a snap and taking a 3-yard loss on third down from the 1.
“He did a great job of keeping the play alive,” offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. “We work a lot on scramble drills. He went, and Eric Ward broke his route and came back out, and the rest is history.”
It left Ward, a sophomore split end, pinching himself.
“It was like a dream,” he said. “It feels like it didn’t even happen, to be honest. But when something like that happens, you’ve got to dwell on the moment, because things like this don’t last forever. So it feels great.”
The touchdown, with 36 seconds left, made Tech 3-0. The last time Tech won via a last-minute touchdown pass was Nov. 1, 2008, when Graham Harrell’s 28-yard throw to Mike Crabtree boosted the Red Raiders past top-ranked Texas 39-33.
Ward’s touchdown catch was his fifth in three games and capped a nine-play drive after Nevada increased its lead to 34-28 with 4:49 left. Ben McRoy gave the Red Raiders’ field position from their own 44 with a 41-yard kickoff return.
From there, Eric Stephens’ 16-yard run on first down got them across midfield, and Jacoby Franks’ 7-yard catch converted a third-and-5.
What happened next caught the Wolf Pack, and maybe the crowd, off guard. Doege spied a wide open right side and took off 26 yards down the sideline, putting Tech in business inside the Nevada 10.
Brown prefers his QBs to pass first, run as a last resort. But two possessions before, Doege bolted 48 yards to the Nevada 8, setting up another touchdown.
“I’m not surprised,” Brown said. “He’s a winner. He’s definitely a winner. He scrambled around, got out of the pocket — some things I thought he could do. I hadn’t had a chance to see (Doege run), because (quarterbacks) wear the non-contact jerseys in scrimmages, but I knew he was capable of it.”
Doege finished 26 of 38 for 222 yards and three touchdowns, his most modest stat line so far this season. However, it bumped up his three-game totals to 89 of 115 with 11 TDs and no interceptions.
“They dropped a lot of people in coverage, more so than they had, and I thought he did a good job of not throwing any picks,” Brown said. “I thought he did a good job being under control and getting out of the pocket and making some plays. I thought that was probably the difference in the second half.”
The late-game heroics rescued Tech on a night when Nevada scored four touchdowns and two field goals on its last six possessions. Among the few big plays the Tech defense made were a couple in the fourth quarter that forced Nevada to settle for field goals.
Linebacker Blake Dees tackled Wolf Pack back Mike Ball for a 3-yard loss on a third-and-1 from the Tech 5, and cornerback Jarvis Phillips broke up a pass for an open receiver in the end zone on a second-and-goal from the 3.
“The whole sideline was still in it,” defensive tackle Kerry Hyder said. “We kept saying, ‘We’re still in it. We have to make a play.’ We finally made a play. The offense was rolling, and we had to make a play at the end.”
Notes: Tech officially listed flanker Darrin Moore as doubtful for Saturday’s game at Kansas. Moore got hurt seven minutes into Saturday’s game against Nevada when he tried to catch a deep pass and came down awkwardly, twisting right knee and left ankle. Moore was on the sideline on crutches in the fourth quarter.
No Tech coaches or players were available to media on Sunday, so no other information was available on Moore.
Tech’s injury report said safety Cody Davis (thigh), cornerback Tre Porter (undisclosed injury) and tackles Mickey Okafor (ankle) and Beau Carpenter (concussion) should return for this week’s game at Kansas, and defensive end Leon Mackey (lung) could return.
Linebackers Tanner Foster (knee) and Pete Robertson (shoulder) are listed as questionable.
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