October 4, 2013 Updated: October 4, 2013 at 7:52 am
RENO, Nev. - Karson Roberts jolted Air Force's heart back to life.
Nevada ripped it out.
The Wolf Pack (3-2, 2-0 Mountain West) scored with 1:45 remaining, then picked off a pass to preserve a 45-42 victory in a game the Falcons led by 12 points in the fourth quarter.
"It was one of those we had in the bag," said Air Force receiver Sam Gagliano, who ran for 78 yards, caught two passes for 26 yards and even completed a pass for 23 yards. "We beat ourselves, basically. Guys are a little more somber and beating themselves up a little bit just because those plays it was like, 'dang, if I had just made that play.'"
It was Nevada's Cody Fajardo who kept making plays in the second half. The dual-threat quarterback completed 38-of-54 passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns and ran 11 times for 81 yards.
I don't think I've ever thrown it 50 times in my career," Fajardo said. "That's high school, Pop Warner, now. But we'll do what we have to do to win."
Fajardo's 2-yard run put the Wolf Pack in front to stay, but only after Nevada survived one last gasp by Roberts.
The sophomore was thrust into the starting lineup for Air Force when Jaleel Awini was suspended earlier this week for unspecified violations that dropped him out of good standing as a cadet.
Roberts was the third Air Force quarterback to start this season, and he hit the ground running with 161 rushing yards and two touchdowns and had 55 yards on 5-of-10 passing and another score.
Roberts' rushing yards were the most by an Air Force quarterback since 2001, and his quickness in running the option had Falcon fans celebrating during the game on social media.
On the last drive, Roberts had led Air Force past midfield and near field goal range when he had a pass deflected right back to himself and he tried to pass it again, only to be intercepted by Nevada's Charles Garrett.
The second pass was illegal, as each play can only have one forward pass, but the interception counted.
"I saw a highlight of Johnny Manziel," Roberts said. "I though he tipped it off himself and threw it against Alabama, so I just reacted and I thought it was allowed.
"He was covered up pretty good, but I just reacted and was trying to play ball out there."
Air Force (1-4, 0-4) had been blown out in three consecutive losses prior to Saturday. That wasn't the case in this one, but it made the sting no less severe.
"We missed some opportunities to make some plays," coach Troy Calhoun said. "Which you have to make to close out a football game against a quality squad."
The teams combined for more than 1,000 yards, with Nevada gaining 599 yards.
"That was pretty wild," Nevada coach Brian Polian said. "We came in with a great plan offensively. They ran with more power than we were expecting.
"We're never going to apologize for a win. Sometimes you need luck and I'm certainly not going to give it back. Sometimes you play in a game and it's ugly and you've just got to find a way. We found a way tonight."
Air Force hurt itself with consecutive illegal substitution penalties on a fourth-quarter drive that led to a punt and eventually Nevada's winning drive.