What a difference a week makes.
Seven days after failing to score an offensive touchdown and compiling just 122 yards in total offense in a 26-7 loss at San Diego State, UNLV rolled up 535 yards while pulling out a wild 41-38 Mountain West Conference victory over Hawaii at Aloha Stadium on Saturday night.
Evan Pantels’ 28-yard field goal with 49 seconds left barely went inside the left upright and won it for the Rebels (3-4, 2-1), who departed Honolulu with a victory for the first time since 2000.
That John Robinson coached squad went on to whip Arkansas, 31-14, in the Las Vegas Bowl 19 days later for one of the biggest wins in school history. Tony Sanchez’s Rebels now must win three of their final five games – vs. Colorado State, at San Jose State, vs. Wyoming, at Boise State and the Fremont Cannon finale at Sam Boyd Stadium against UNR – to get to the magic six-win total necessary for bowl eligibility.
If redshirt freshman quarterback Dalton Sneed can continue to play like he did Saturday night against the Rainbow Warriors (3-4, 2-1), that may be a very real possibility.
Sneed, who completed just 2 of 12 passes for nine yards and an interception in last week’s loss to the Aztecs, bounced back in a big way, completing 19 of 27 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for 61 more yards on 11 carries.
“Obviously coming off last week that was a real gut-check for our entire offense,” Sanchez said on his post-game radio show afterward. “We talked about it a lot. … We were explosive at times. We ran the ball well at times. We kind of wore them down at the end, and Dalton was a big part of that. That was good to see.”
The Rebels also got big games from sophomore running back Lexington Thomas, who rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries and also caught two passes for 43 yards and another TD, wide receiver Devonte Boyd, who caught six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown, and running back David Greene, who had two short touchdown runs.
— UNLV Football (@unlvfootball) October 16, 2016
But it was a defensive play that featured senior linebacker Tau Lotulelei (7 tackles) and cornerback Darius Mouton (6 tackles, 5 pass breakups) that proved to be the turning point in a game that featured six ties and four lead changes.
Four plays after a highlight-reel 34-yard touchdown run by Thomas tied it, 38-38, Lotulelei chased down scrambling Hawaii quarterback Dru Brown and stripped the ball away, and Mouton scooped the fumble up and appeared to return it for a touchdown. An illegal block out of bounds erased the score but the Rebels, who took over on their own 45 with 2:36 to go, then drove to the Hawaii 10-yard line where Pantels booted the game-winning field goal with 49 seconds remaining.
The win snapped a six-game road losing streak for the Rebels dating back to a 23-17 win at Nevada on Oct. 3, 2015.
UNLV returns home to face Colorado State on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Click on graphic below for complete game stats.