It took longer than many expected but Phillip Payne finally passed Henry Bailey in UNLV’s record book for career touchdown receptions during the Rebels’ game with Colorado State on Saturday afternoon at Sam Boyd Stadium.
But what made the day even more special for the 6-foot-3 senior from Western High School was the fact he accomplished the milestone during a rare Rebels’ victory.
“It feels good,” Payne, who broke the record with a wide-open 31-yard catch from Caleb Herring in the third quarter of an eventual 38-35 victory, said. “It feels even better to get it with a win. I’m excited. My family is excited. It’s huge.”
Payne, who also caught an 8-yard touchdown pass just before halftime that gave UNLV (2-5, 1-1 Mountain West) a 17-13 lead, now has 25 career touchdown receptions, passing the 24 TD grabs by Bailey (1991-95).
Payne had been stuck on No. 23 for over a month. In fact, he only had one catch for 22 yards in UNLV’s two previous games — both lopsided losses — against Wyoming and Nevada.
With a strong finish in the Rebel’s final five games, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Payne could still break the Mountain West Conference record for career TD receptions of 30 set by BYU’s Austin Collie.
Both of Payne’s touchdown grabs came from Herring, who didn’t enter the game until late in the first quarter after starting quarterback Sean Reilly threw an interception that was returned 52 yards for a touchdown by CSU linebacker Shaquil Barrett.
Herring, who had benched in favor of Reilly following a dreadful 1 of 14 passing performance in a 37-0 loss at Nevada on Oct. 8, rebounded with one of his best games of the season, completing 9 of 13 passes for 90 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 22 yards on 5 carries, including a game-winning 5-yard touchdown run with 1:20 remaining. That score came one play after a 29-yard run by Herring.
Herring’s touchdown marked the eighth and final lead change of the afternoon although Colorado State (3-5, 1-2) almost made it nine. The Rams, with quarterback Pete Thomas connecting on three straight passes for 56 yards, drove from their own 16 yard line to the UNLV 28 with 46 seconds to go. But Thomas, harassed all afternoon by a Rebel pass rush that finished with four sacks, was intercepted by linebacker Tani Maka on the next play to end the threat.
“We got together as a team, and we said, ‘We are either going to take this game or we’re going to give it away,'” Maka said. “We ended up taking it.”
“Obviously we are thrilled to win,” Bobby Hauck, who improved to 4-16 in his second year as UNLV coach, said. “Our players have shown a lot of character and toughness. They have worked hard in practice and they deserve to win, so I’m thrilled for our players.”
REBEL NOTES: UNLV finished with 244 yards rushing, the program’s highest rushing total in a game since Nov. 10, 2007 when the Rebels gained 275 yards against San Diego State. … The four quarterback sacks were the most by UNLV since the Rebels also had four sacks in a win at New Mexico on Oct. 24, 2009. … Senior DB Deante Pruvis had a 98-yard kickoff return for UNLV’s first touchdown. It was the second kickoff return for a TD in Purvis’ career and the second longest in school history behind only Ken Bowles’ 99-yarder against Cal Poly in 1976. … Freshman Dionza Bradford, listed as questionable for the game with a leg injury, had his second straight 100-yard rushing performance, finishing with a career-high 122 yards on 22 carries and one touchdown. … Senior DE James Dunlap led the Rebel defense with 7 tackles, 2 sacks, a forced fumble and 4.5 tackles for loss.