The slogan for UNLV’s football team this season is “Light The Fuse.” But someone forgot to bring the matches until the second half Saturday afternoon at Sam Boyd Stadium.
By then the Rebels (3-5, 2-2), after playing arguably the worst half of the Tony Sanchez era, already trailed Colorado State 35-0 en route to a 42-23 Mountain West Conference loss to the Rams.
Izzy Matthews and Marvin Kinsey each rushed for a pair of touchdowns before halftime and quarterback Nick Stevens completed 21 of 28 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns for the Rams who rolled up 467 yards in total offense, including a commanding 298 to 72 edge in the first half.
Hey, look at the bright side for the announced crowd of 18,362 on a sunny 90-degree day. They got to witness a the World Record for Largest Mariachi Performance by 731 students from Clark County schools, topping the previous mark of 700 set in Mexico. But that didn’t carry a lot of weight with Sanchez afterward.
“Just own it,” Sanchez said. “We got our butts kicked today.”
UNLV, playing with a lot more energy after halftime, outscored the Rams, 23-7, in the second half as Colorado State seemed content to play ball control on offense. The Rams finished with an astounding 39:37 to 20:23 edge in time of possession and ran 78 plays compared to just 55 for the Rebels.
“Extremely frustrating,” senior safety Troy Hawthorne, who finished with a game-high 12 tackles and a forced fumble, said. “They came out and just drove the ball on us, and it was completely inexcusable on our part on defense. I can’t speak for the offense but defense, we came out flat. We didn’t come out fired up, and they completely took advantage of us and drove down on us, and kicked out butts the first half.”
“Really, I mean really, as flat as I’ve ever been around a group of guys in the first half,” Sanchez said. “We did a bad job of getting those guys ready to come out and play hard. That first half was pretty embarrassing, really.”
The Rebels scored the first 17 points after halftime on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Dalton Sneed to Lexington Thomas, a 27-yard Evan Pantels field goal and a 2-yard run by David Greene to close to within 35-17 with 12:09 remaining. But Colorado State squashed any UNLV hopes of a dream comeback win when Stevens hit Michael Gallup with a 36-yard touchdown pass just one play after recovering an onside kick.
The Rebels tacked on one more touchdown with 5:44 left on a 51-yard pass from Sneed, who rushed for a game-high 96 yards but completed just 7 of 23 passes for 185 yards for two touchdowns and an interception, to freshman Mekhi Stevenson to make the score look more respectable.
Simply put, it was a blown opportunity for a UNLV squad that was coming in off an impressive 41-38 road win at Hawaii and seemed back on track to getting to the magic six-win mark needed for bowl eligibility. The Rebels, who travel to struggling San Jose State (2-6) on Saturday night, must win three of their final four games against the Spartans, Wyoming (5-2), at Boise State (7-0) and the annual Fremont Cannon battle with Nevada (3-5), to make that happen now.
“We don’t believe we’re out of it,” Hawthorne said. “We still have a chance to complete goals, go to a bowl game and stuff. We’re not quitting, we’re not giving up. … We’re going to keep fighting.”
Click below for final game stats.