Before making his college football debut against Minnesota on Thursday night at Sam Boyd Stadium, UNLV redshirt freshman quarterback Nick Sherry said he got some advice from head coach Bobby Hauck.
“One thing Coach told me is that you don’t have to win the game,” Sherry said.
But three overtimes and closing in on four hours later, the 6-foot-5 Sherry tried to do just that … and paid the price.
On the second play of the third overtime, a scrambling Sherry tried to force a pass into coverage in the end zone. Minnesota sophomore safety Derrick Willis read the play perfectly and intercepted the pass, setting the stage for Jordan Wettstein’s 32-yard game-winning field goal as the Golden Gophers (1-0) handed the Rebels (0-1) a bitter 30-27 loss before a disappointing crowd of just 16,013.
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“I saw a receiver at the back of the end zone but I was sprinting away from a guy, and I didn’t have balance and underthrew him and got picked,” Sherry said. “It’s something I’ll have to deal with and it’s got to change, especially if we’re going to be in close games the rest of the season. It’s something to learn from.”
Sherry completed 16-of-35 passes for 116 yards and one touchdown, a six-yard pass to wide receiver Devante Davis crossing at the back of the end zone that tied the game in the second overtime, 27-27.
But that excitement lasted all of two plays. UNLV, which started the third overtime on offense, moved to the Minnesota 11 on a 14-yard run by tailback Bradley Randle (45 yards on 10 carries). That gave the Rebels, riding a wave of momentum, a first and 10 at the Gopher 11.
Sherry rolled to his right and then tried to throw back across his body but the ball sailed straight to the waiting Willis.
“I don’t think he saw me,” Willis, who had two of the three interceptions Sherry threw, said. “I think he was keyed in on the tight end coming across the middle.”
After three runs by tailback James Killum to the UNLV 17, Wettstein, who missed a 32-yard field goal in the second quarter, drilled a 32-yarder for the victory.
“They made one more play than we did at the end,” Hauck said. “It’s gut-wrenching in our locker room and celebratory in theirs, so good for them. We’re proud of the effort but not the result.”
“It’s hard to lose,” Sherry said. “It’s hard to lose, especially that close of a game. I’ve got to play better. I made some crucial mistakes but I’m going to fix that next week. We have a great team and we’re going to be doing some great things.”
Sherry had a solid start, completing 12 of 18 passes for 93 yards and one interception as Minnesota took a 7-3 halftime lead. But he paid the price for a handful of nasty hits, including one where he was tossed violently to the ground by defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman, completing just 4 of 17 passes for 23 yards and two interceptions after halftime.
“I think the hits wore me down,” Sherry admitted. “I hadn’t been hit in two years. It kind of woke me up but in the second half, I started to feel it.”
Still, the Rebels, behind the running of junior tailback Tim Cornett (127 yards on 25 carries), rallied to tie the game, 13-13, on a 35-yard Nolan Kohorst field goal with 2:46 remaining in the fourth quarter to force overtime.
Minnesota won the toss and elected to start on defense. Cornett then put the Rebels ahead, 20-13, with an 18-yard burst off left tackle.
But the Golden Gophers came back to tie it, 20-20, on a 10-yard pass from quarterback MarQueis Gray to tight end John Rabe.
On the first play of the second overtime, Gray hit a wide-open Rabe again on a wheel route for a 25-yard touchdown and a 27-20 Minnesota lead. But the Rebels rallied to force a third OT when Sherry found Davis on fourth-and-5 at the Gophers’ six-yard line.
Two plays later, Sherry was picked off by Willis to set the stage for Wettstein’s game-winner.
“I compliment UNLV,” Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. “I’ve known Coach Hauck a long time. He’s down the right path. His football team is better than it was a year ago, and they played their guts out. So, we’re just happy to get out of here and get a win.”
The Rebels, meanwhile, had to settle with just coming close against a Big Ten team that came in favored by 10 points.
“It was good hanging with them but coming in our mindset was to win it,” Cornett said. “I feel a little down but we’ve got to get treatment (Friday) and we’ve got to get back at it in Saturday’s practice.”
UNLV returns to action on Sept. 8 when it hosts Northern Arizona (0-1), a 63-6 loser at Arizona State also on Thursday night.