When Oakdale High football coaches Tim Meyer and Hondo Arpoika took their families to see OHS graduates Devin Combs and Justin Martin play in Saturday’s Nevada vs. Wyoming NCAA football game at Mackay Stadium in Reno, they had no idea what they were in for.
Combs — a 2008 OHS grad, Nevada sophomore and backup to highly touted Cody Fajardo — was suddenly thrust into action when Fajardo was sent to the sideline with a second-quarter injury.
His first few drives proved uneventful, but with Nevada trailing, Combs connected with Richy Turner for a 44-yard touchdown to tie the game with a minute, 18 seconds to play. In overtime, Combs hit Aaron Bradley on a heroic 24-yard score. When Wyoming failed to score, Nevada’s student section rushed the field to celebrate a 35-28 victory, a second straight Mountain West Conference win and a 5-1 overall mark on the year.
“I’ve always believed I can play,” Combs told the Reno Gazette-Journal afterwards.
However, the OHS alum added, there’s a big difference between believing you can do it and getting it done, so he was pleased to do his job on behalf of his team.
The comeback was made possible by Combs’ 11 for 19 performance that accumulated 217 yards and two touchdowns against a stout Wyoming defense that snapped Nevada’s streak of 14 consecutive games with at least one 100-yard rusher (Wyoming allowed only 127 total rushing yards).
“It took Devin some time to find himself, but he did and I’m proud of him,” Nevada coach Chris Ault noted on the school website. “To bring this team back in the fourth quarter and then win this thing, that was pretty special.”
Nevada led 21-7 early, but Fajardo’s last pass was intercepted by Wyoming midway through the second period. The Cowboys needed only six plays to march 35 yards and bring Wyoming to within a score. When Martin — a 2011 OHS grad and Wyoming’s true-freshman kickoff specialist — booted the ensuing kickoff for a touchback (his second of three touchbacks on four kicks), Combs took the helm for his first drive of the game. A three-out gave way to the half. When Martin’s third-quarter kick gave Nevada another possession at the 20, Combs responded with a 12-play drive to Wyoming’s 13 yard line. Combs was responsible for four-first down plays on the drive and 56 yards (34 rushing), but the possession came up empty when Allen Hardison’s 30-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.
Wyoming marched 66 yards to tie the game in the third, and took the lead in the fourth as Combs floundered to three-and-outs on his next two drives. His 71-yard pass to Turner set Nevada up for a first and goal at the Wyoming six with eight minutes to play, but a penalty backed the Wolf Pack up and Combs fumbled at the end of a 15-yard drive to give Wyoming the ball.
Three first down throws from Combs awarded Nevada another first and goal with under four minutes to play, but Combs threw three incompletions and was stopped short on his fourth-down rush to turn the ball over.
When Nevada’s defense forced Wyoming to punt for a third straight time with 1:35 to play, Combs heaved his first touchdown pass as a member of the Wolf Pack to tie the score just 17 seconds into the drive. In the second play of overtime, Combs found Bradley open for the ultimate game winner.
Combs, trying to shake off early jitters, admitted he wasn’t good to start but found a way to settle down and was happy to have a few critical completed passes mixed in with those that didn’t find their mark.
It proved to be quite the experience for the Oakdale coaches in attendance who had seen Combs throw for 26 touchdowns and over 2,200 yards in Oakdale’s section championship season Combs’ senior year. Combs played one year at MJC before inking the full-ride scholarship to Nevada.
“Dev has always been a kid up for challenges,” Meyer said on Monday. “He’s a winner wherever he has been at. He was a winner here.”
Meyer said it was exciting to have the Mustangs represented by both Nevada and Wyoming. He said the game presented an opportunity for Combs to prove to himself and teammates, coaches that he is playing at the right place.
“I went up there to see Devin in spring practice, and can just see how he is getting more comfortable with the offense and the speed at the Division I level,” Meyer said. “From where Devin was at spring and to where he is now has been a nice progression. He has done a good job.”