Photo courtesy of Toledo athletics
The notion of overtime in college football has become pretty normal over the last 25 years.
It was until the 1995 bowl season however, that overtime was implemented in FBS football. The first-ever overtime contest took place on this day 25 years ago as Toledo edged Nevada in the Las Vegas Bowl, 40-37.
Setting the Stage
It was the first game of the 1995 bowl season as No. 25 Toledo played host to Nevada in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 14, 1995. Under fifth-year head coach Gary Pinkel, the Rockets were 10-0-1 with a tie against Miami University as their lone blemish.
Nevada was 9-2 and champions of the Big West. The Wolf Pack had won seven straight games since dropping back-to-back contests to Toledo and San Diego State. After falling to the Rockets 49-35 in Reno earlier in the year, Chris Ault’s team had revenge on its mind.
Until overtime, Nevada never led in the contest. Wasean Tait rushed for two of his four touchdowns in the first half as Toledo raced to a 21-7 lead. Ken Minor’s second touchdown of the half for the Wolf Pack cut the deficit to 21-14 at the break.
By the end of the third quarter, Nevada had the lead down to three, thanks to a Damon Shea field goal and an exchange of touchdown between Toledo’s Dwayne Harris and Eric Bennett for the Wolf Pack.
A missed extra point for the Rockets in the third quarter however, could’ve proved costly. Tait’s third touchdown of the day — a 26-yard run on the second play of the fourth quarter — extended the lead to 34-24. Again, Nevada had the answer.
A 71-yard pass from Mike Maxwell to Alex Van Dyke set up Minor’s third touchdown of the night to cut the lead back to three. On the next Toledo possession, a fumbled exchange on a hand-off gave the ball back to Nevada at the Rockets’ 4-yard-line. All Nevada could muster was a 26-yard field goal by Shea.
Neither team scored over the remaining 9:28 of regulation and for the first time ever, an FBS contest — then Division I-A — was headed to overtime. Overtime was implemented prior to bowls, specifically as an experiment. It was unknown whether it would stick or not.
Nevada took the ball first in the extra session, but stalled at the 5-yard-line. Shea’s third field goal of the day gave the Wolf Pack their first lead, 37-34.
It took just four running plays for Toledo to put the contest away. Tait scored from three yards out to end the contest.
Tait was the star of the show for Toledo, finishing with 185 yards rushing and four of his team’s six touchdowns. He added six catches for a team-high 53 yards. Quarterback Ryan Huzjak passed for 254 yards in the victory. The Rockets finished with 561 yards of offense in the victory.
Maxwell finished with 330 yards passing for the Wolf Pack in the loss. Van Dyke led all receivers with 14 catches for 176 yards. Minor rushed for just 38 yards, but scored three touchdowns.
For Toledo, the victory gave the Rockets their first undefeated season since 1971. They finished No. 24 in the final AP Poll — also their first ranked finish in 24 years.
The contest would serve as the final game of Ault’s first stint as head coach of the Wolf Pack. Ault would go on to become the school’s athletic director until 2004 when he began his second stint as Nevada head coach. Nevada’s lone bowl victory prior to Ault’s return to coaching came the following year in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Following the thrilling Las Vegas Bowl, the overtime rules in major college football would stick. Since then, big-time regular season games, conference championships and national title games have all been decided in overtime. The first overtime however, occurred on this day a quarter-century ago.