LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) -- With his strong arm and quick legs, Colin Kaepernick is giving Nevada every reason to hope for another bowl game.
Kaepernick, a redshirt freshman, threw a 31-yard touchdown strike to Mike McCoy with a minute remaining, lifting Nevada to a stirring 40-38 victory over New Mexico State on Friday night.
"We kind of expected a shootout, the way they threw the ball and the way they're capable of putting up points," Kaepernick said. "We knew it would come down to us scoring at the end."
The Wolf Pack (5-4, 3-2 Western Athletic Conference) won their third straight and held on after Brett Jaekle missed the extra point attempt after McCoy's touchdown.
"He's such a good kicker. My reaction was there's no excuse," Nevada coach Chris Ault said. "Game's on the line. You're expected to make that. I'm surprised. I'm shocked he did that."
The Aggies (4-6, 1-4) drove to Nevada's 27 on their final possession, but Paul Young's 44-yard field attempt sailed low and wide left, touching off a celebration on Nevada's sideline.
"We didn't lose on the field goal," New Mexico State coach Hal Mumme said. "Paul missed but he hit it long enough. He just pulled it. You can't put it on him. We had our chances to win."
It was a huge victory as Nevada seeks its third straight bowl bid. With WAC front-runners Hawaii and Boise State on target for bowl bids, both teams needed to keep up with resurgent Fresno State (5-3, 4-1) in the postseason drive.
"We'd better not be thinking about a bowl," Ault said. "We have Hawaii first."
Kaepernick had a spectacular game, breaking two long TD runs in the fourth quarter and throwing for two more scores in his fourth start since replacing the injured Nick Graziano.
"Kaepernick is a great kid and he made some great plays. He made a heck of a play on the post route," Mumme said, recalling the game-winner. "He beat us. But our kids played hard and had a good chance to win."
Kaepernick's 35-yard sprint on third-and-15 gave the Wolf Pack a 34-31 lead with 7:13 remaining, and his 31-yarder on third-and-4 put Nevada ahead 27-24 early in the fourth quarter.
He finished with 136 yards rushing, and since taking over Kaepernick has accounted for 18 TDs.
"When Coach calls my number, I have to do what I can to get the offense to score," said Kaepernick, who was 15-of-28 for 237 yards passing with three TDs and one interception.
New Mexico State's Chase Holbrook threw for 407 yards and four touchdowns to become the school's career leader in TD passes, putting the Aggies ahead 38-34 with a 32-yard scoring pass to A.J. Harris with 3:38 to play.
It was the 56th TD pass of his career, breaking the mark of 55 set by Cody Ledbetter from 1991-95.
Mumme said Holbrook got only one practice because of a concussion in last week's 50-13 loss at Hawaii.
"Chase played great on one day of work," Mumme said.
That play was set up by Davon House's fourth interception in the last three games, putting the Aggies at their own 30 with 4:30 left.
Holbrook put the Aggies ahead 31-27 with 10 minutes to play, throwing a 25-yard TD pass to Kenneth Buckley.
Nevada's Luke Lippincott added 143 yards rushing, his fourth straight game over the 100-yard mark. He came in averaging 113.9 yards rushing, ranking second in the WAC.
On that play, New Mexico State cornerback Chris Woods thought Mitchell had stepped out and made no effort to tackle him. Mumme challenged the ruling, but it was upheld after a review and Nevada led 20-3.
Holbrook then made it a game, leading the Aggies to 21 straight points. New Mexico State led 24-20 going into the fourth quarter after Holbrook tossed a shovel pass that Derek Dubois took for an 8-yard TD.
Nevada has won four straight over New Mexico State and leads the series 10-1.
The Aggies didn't have leading receiver Chris Williams, who is out for the season with a broken collarbone. Mumme said tailback Tony Glynn may be done for the season after breaking his ankle just before halftime.
"If we were getting hurt in practice, it would be different," Mumme said. "It's part of the game, and it's not good."