The Rockets, seen here entering the field during a home last season, travel to Nevada to play the Wolf Pack on Saturday. The teams met in a classic overtime 1995 bowl game in Las Vegas. THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
RENO, Nev. — It was the 1995 Las Vegas Bowl, and University of Toledo running back Wasean Tait had just plunged into the end zone from two yards out. The Rockets had just claimed a 40-37 win against Nevada in the first-ever overtime game in Division I college football and completed an unbeaten season.
Next thing he knew, Tait found himself at the bottom of a massive celebratory pile on and everything went black.
“The best memory was scoring the touchdown in the overtime,” Tait recalled. “The worst memory of the game was after the game, when everyone jumped and piled on top of me and I kind of passed out. I couldn’t breathe because there were so many people piled up on me in the end zone.”
Former UT coach Gary Pinkel said he saw the pile stacked up about 10 feet high.
“I was pulling bodies off the top of him, and he got a little scared underneath there,” Pinkel said. “There must have been like 25 bodies on top of him.”
Toledo and Nevada once again will play each other Saturday, this time at Mackay Stadium. It will be just the fourth meeting between the two, with the most memorable being the iconic bowl game.
The Rockets, fresh off a 47-13 win against Elon in the season opener, will bring their high-powered offense to Reno, while the Wolf Pack and first-year coach Jay Norvell are trying to bounce back from a 31-20 loss at Northwestern.
That 1995 bowl game was an instant classic. Toledo’s only blemish that season was a tie with Miami (Ohio) during the regular season, because the NCAA only tried its new overtime format during the postseason.
“It was great being that first overtime game, especially since we had that tie earlier in the year,” former UT quarterback Ryan Huzjak said. “We would have loved to have gone to overtime and settled that one as well. We weren’t hoping to go to overtime as we led up to the game, but as it wound down we were very happy to have the opportunity to play for the win instead of just settling for another tie.”
The bowl game actually was the second meeting between the two teams that season. Toledo won 49-35 at Nevada earlier in the year.
In Las Vegas, Nevada used a late field goal to tie the game at 34 and force the overtime.
Toledo won the toss and chose to play on defense. Pinkel said he was hearing it on the bench from fans and his own family for choosing to play defense first. He said at that time, people were used to the NFL overtime format in which teams always choose to take the ball.
After Toledo’s defense held Nevada to a field goal on the first possession of overtime, there was little doubt where the ball was going on the Rockets’ possession.
Tait, who finished the game with 185 rushing yards, 238 all-purpose yards, and four touchdowns, said he still gets goosebumps thinking back to that game and the last overtime possession.
“I didn’t shy away from it,” Tait said. “I figured the coaches would give me the ball, but I didn’t know how much or whatever. At that time, I would take the ball anytime you gave it to me.”
On three consecutive runs, Toledo pounded the ball in the end zone, capped off with Tait’s 2-yard dive.
“We ran that play earlier in the season for a 4th-and-1, and I scored a touchdown from like 30 or 40 yards out,” Tait said of the scoring play. “That play was specifically for the goal line or a 4th-and-1 situation. I just found a little opening and I dove through it.”
It was the perfect ending to a memorable season for Toledo.
“It was a great ending,” Pinkel said. “It was the first overtime game in the history of Division I and it was a victory for us. It was an undefeated season for us and a national ranking. It was great for our football program and certainly for the University of Toledo.”
The way the historic overtime played out for Toledo was only appropriate with how the season had gone.
“Our defense played really great all year,” Huzjak said. “They always seemed to make the clutch play or get the clutch stop when they needed to. So having our defense step up in overtime and stop that great Nevada offense was so fitting for that season and how they performed all year. And then to have our offensive line take over in overtime and our running back Wasean, who was just phenomenal, take it in to score on the last play of the season was a storybook ending and really one that defined that team and that group perfectly.”