FRESNO — By the time it was all over, the mistake seemed almost meaningless. In front of some 200 familiar faces from his days of playing sports in Turlock, an ESPN audience and a crowd of 37,116, University of Nevada senior quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw a rare interception.
“If he had a gun, he’d probably shot himself,” said his coach, Chris Ault.
Of course, he was only speaking figuratively. But the comment also illustrated the type of player that Kaepernick is known to be. Ask anyone of his former Pitman High teammates what they remember most about him, and they’ll likely say his competitiveness. His family remembers him slamming his bedroom door and tuning out the world after what he considered a bad performance in youth sports, whether it was in baseball, basketball or football.
This drive also took place in non-sports situations. His brother, Kyle, once told a story about how upset Colin would get when his co-workers at Reno’s Silver and Blue Outfitters beat him in a simple game of trash-can basketball.
So just imagine what he was thinking when he threw an interception into the opposing hands of Lorne Bell late in the first quarter of his Nevada Wolf Pack’s game against Fresno State on Saturday night at Bulldog Stadium. He said afterward there wasn’t any added pressure to perform well, except that all he wanted to do was win.
Nevada got it, with a final score of 35-34.The drive
The spotlight was intense. Colin knew this.
In many instances, the game was billed as Colin’s final return to the Central Valley, a sort of homecoming since he grew up in nearby Turlock. In other instances, this was his chance to prove that Fresno State made a huge mistake by not offering him a scholarship when he was a Pitman senior. But every time a reporter asked him about the meaning of Saturday’s game, he said in his usual polite way that it was just another game.
But really, it wasn’t.
A lot was at stake. Nevada and Fresno State entered the game knowing that the winner would be that much closer to a Western Athletic Conference title. The loser, on the other hand, would just hope to finish the remainder of the season strong. So when he threw just his sixth interception of the season, it was safe to assume that Colin blamed himself for the mistake, though Coach Ault would say later that he noticed the defender stripping away the arm of the intended receiver.
No one dismissed Colin at the moment. Especially not his teammates.
“I have all trust in Colin,” tight end Virgil Green said. “Colin is a great quarterback, he knows how to lead our team and he’s just a great, exceptional quarterback.”
There’s also something else that separates him from other footballers.
“He has short-term memory,” his father, Rick Kaepernick, has said.
Colin proved that theory the rest of the night, despite Fresno State taking the lead three times in the final three quarters. Fresno State was like a brick wall most of the night, stopping Nevada’s runs up the middle. But the Wolf Pack (9-1, 4-1 WAC) kept on doing it, all the way until the final minutes of a close game.
Nevada was down 34-28 until Colin, out of the potent pistol offense, handed the ball to reliable running back Vai Taua, who marched down the middle for a 24-yard score with 4 minutes, 51 seconds left. Colin then rushed to celebrate with his teammates, though he also had enough reasons to rejoice for himself after finishing the night completing 16-of-26 passes for 171 yards and rushing 16 times for 153 yards and two scores — a 47-yarder in the first quarter and a 19-yarder in the third. He’s now the Nevada career leader in rushing TDs with 53.
Even so, he didn’t say much about himself after the game. While leaning against the wall of the visiting locker room, a reporter asked him, “Do you want to run for three scores or rush for three scores?”
“Whatever it takes for my team to win, I’ll do it,” Colin answered.The aftermath
By the time it was all over, fans took home a lot of memories. Besides a thrilling football game, they watched a young man creep onto the field before a security guard speared him to the ground in front of thousands of cheering fans — a moment that has garnered thousands of hits on YouTube.
So yeah, this wasn’t just a game.
Plenty of Turlockers were in attendance, too, including Tom Brandstater. He’s the former Turlock High and Fresno State quarterback who was recently picked up by the Miami Dolphins to be on their practice squad. He admired the setting, as he and two other former Bulldogs stood on the field while being announced to the crowd.
However, it was Colin who hogged most of the spotlight in his fourth win against the Bulldogs. He can’t help but be that way, the center of attention. He’s the quarterback of a Nevada team that moved up to No. 18 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings, one that will likely battle No. 4 Boise State (9-0, 5-0 WAC) the day after Thanksgiving for a WAC trophy.
There’s a big reason why he’s in this position.
“Kap is just so competitive,” Coach Ault said.
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