Tony Sanchez’s first win as UNLV football coach was one for the record books.
Oh, was it.
The Rebels (1-3) shattered school marks for points in a quarter, half and game and also eclipsed the Mountain West Conference mark for most points in a game with a 80-8 throttling of Idaho State (1-3) on Saturday night before an announced crowd of 16,717 at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Senior quarterback Blake Decker threw for two touchdowns and ran for another and freshmen running backs Xzaviar Campbell and Lexington Thomas both broke the 100-yard rushing barrier for UNLV, which had scored a total of just one touchdown in losing its two previous games against No. 9 UCLA (37-3) and at Michigan (28-7). The Rebels, who led 35-0 after the first quarter and 52-8 at halftime, forced six turnovers — four of them interceptions — and also blocked a field goal and a punt while finishing with 626 total yards, including 517 rushing.
“It wasn’t like we were trying to put it on them and run up the score too much,” said Decker, who didn’t play in the second half. “Things were just clicking for us, we were running the ball well and we were executing the way we should.”
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The 80 points were the most scored by an NCAA FBS team this season. It broke UNLV’s school record of 72 set in 1980 in a 72-7 victory at New Mexico and eclipsed the Mountain West record for points in a game (72) set by Air Force against Nicholls State in 2009. The Rebels breezed by that mark with 2:59 remaining in the third quarter when junior defensive back Troy Hawthorne intercepted a pass by Idaho State freshman backup quarterback Tanner Gueller and zig-zagged his way 47-yards for a touchdown to make it 73-8.
UNLV hit the 80-point mark on senior fullback George Naufahu’s 2-yard run with 2:51 remaining. That enabled to the Rebels to also break the school record for biggest victory margin of 69 points set in a 69-0 win over Cal Tech in 1968.
“Nothing,” Sanchez said when asked what scoring 80 points in a game meant to him. “We just wanted to score one more point. Really, at the end of the day, I wish we wouldn’t have gotten there. It is what it is. We played well. The biggest thing is we won the game. I don’t care if we won by one point or if we won by 50.”
The win snapped an overall nine-game losing streak for the Rebels dating back to a 30-27 overtime win over Fresno State on Oct. 10, 2014. It was also the first win at the school for Sanchez, who replaced Bobby Hauck last December after coaching Bishop Gorman High School to a 15-0 record and a mythical national championship.
Some of the individual highlights for UNLV:
* Freshman cornerback Tim Hough, who prepped at Desert Pines High School, intercepted two passes and also scooped up a blocked field goal by junior defensive lineman Dominic Baldwin and ran 54 yards to the Bengal 23-yard line to set up UNLV’s second touchdown.
* Decker completed 7-of-11 passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed six times for 31 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown.
* Campbell, a 5-foot-11, 220-pound true freshman, rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries and Thomas, a 5-foot-9, 165-pound true freshman, had 106 yards and a touchdown on seven carries to become the first UNLV duo to go over 100 yards rushing in the same game since Bradley Randle (113) and Tim Cornett (107) accomplished the feat against New Mexico in 2012. The Rebels nearly had a third as starter Keith Whitely finished with 95 yards on 12 carries.
* Placekicker Nicolai Bornand scored 14 points, including a school record 11 extra points.
The 517 rushing yards were just six short of the school record of 523 set in 1973 against Santa Clara.
“We challenged our O-line and our backs this week,” Sanchez said. “Going into this game we had not had a rushing touchdown by a running back, and that kind of irks you a little bit.”
Junior quarterback Michael Sanders completed 14-of-33 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown but was intercepted three times for Idaho State, which was blanked 52-0 loss by Boise State in its previous game.
“God awful,” Bengals coach Mike Kramer said of his team’s performance. “Six turnovers. Just miserable in all facets. Miserable in the kicking game to begin with. Miserable on defense to end it.”
Kramer was asked how demoralizing the loss was for his squad.
“Demoralizing,” Kramer replied. “The bottom of the barrel, I hope. … It’s a huge step back, a monster step back (for the program). Two of these back to back will gut your program if you’re not careful. I have to be careful how I handle this. I need every ounce of coaching ability I have to rally us now because we are back to square one.”
UNLV, taking advantage of a pair of Bengal turnovers and a blocked punt, bolted out to a 35-0 lead in the first quarter, breaking the school record for most points in a quarter. The old mark of 33 came in the school’s first season in 1968 against Cal Tech.
Whitely got the scoring going when he caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Decker just two plays after senior wide receiver Aaron Criswell returned the opening kickoff 58 yards to the Idaho State 28-yard line.
The Rebels later scored four touchdowns in a span four minutes and 10 seconds. Decker scored on a 12-yard run four plays after Hough returned a blocked field goal to the Bengal 23 to make it 14-0. Two plays later, junior cornerback Jay’Onn Myles picked off Sanders to set up a 40-yard touchdown run by Thomas to up the lead to 21-0.
A 45-yard run by Campbell highlighted a 70-yard drive by the Rebels that was capped by a 2-yard run by Whitely to make it 28-0. Freshman defensive back J.T. Nettleton then blocked a punt by sophomore Zak Johnson on the ensuing Idaho State possession, and Campbell scored on a 21-yard run two plays later to increase UNLV’s lead to 35-0.
Idaho State got on the board on a 26-yard pass from Sanders to senior wide receiver CJ Hatchett early in the second quarter and added a two-point conversion to close to within 35-8, but UNLV answered with 17 points thanks to touchdown passes of 4 yards by backup QB Kurt Palandech to Devonte Boyd and 36 yards from Decker to Criswell.
Bornand’s 30-yard field goal on the final play of the half made it 52-8.
The 52 first-half points broke the UNLV school record for points in a half, shattering the previous mark of 38 reached twice — in the second half in 1980 at New Mexico and in the first half in 1977 against Western Illinois.
Next up for UNLV is a trip to Reno on Saturday where the Rebels will open Mountain West play in the Battle for the Fremont Cannon against Nevada (2-2) at 4 p.m. at Mackay Stadium.