FRESNO, Calif. – UNLV coach Tony Sanchez didn’t mince any words when summing up the Rebels 31-28 loss to Fresno State here on Friday night at Bulldog Stadium.
“That was an abomination,” a frustrated Sanchez said after the Rebels (2-5, 1-2) blew a 14-point second-half lead to drop their second straight Mountain West Conference game at the wire.
“That was a very winnable game that we just handed away and you can’t do that,” Sanchez said. “We had plenty of opportunities to sustain some drives on offense and we failed to do so. I think that was a huge part of it, and we gave up way too many plays, and missed tackles on defense.
“Overall I thought it was a very poor performance on our part and that all starts with me. I take full blame for this effort we put out there tonight. That was an abomination, that was bad football.”
UNLV also lost to San Jose State in overtime, 33-27, a week earlier at Sam Boyd Stadium. Find a way to win that game and hold on Friday night here and the Rebels would be 4-3 and heading into this week’s bye trying to figure out which bowl game they’d have a realistic shot of attending.
“It is a good time to bounce back and rebuild and get in and get our focus right,” wide receiver Devonte Boyd said.
UNLV led 28-14 late with 5:13 left in the third quarter after Boyd caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Palandech, who finished the night 12-of-24 for 111 yards and two touchdowns in his second college start.
Senior Marteze Waller rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns, including a 38-yarder with 2:37 remaining for the game-winner, and redshirt freshman quarterback Kilton Anderson completed 19-of-31 passes for 193 yards and also rushed for 78 yards and two touchdowns to lead Fresno State (2-6, 1-3), which scored the final 17 points of the game to pull out the victory and snap a five-game losing streak.
Waller’s 38-yard run off left tackle gave Fresno State a 29-28 lead and Anderson followed that up by hitting tight end Chad Olsen with a 2-point conversion.
But UNLV, spurred by a nifty 39-yard run by Palandech, then drove to the Fresno State 30 and shunned a chance at a potential game-tying field-goal try thanks in part to a sudden downpour in the final minutes. Palandech was sacked on UNLV’s final two plays, including by sophomore linebacker Justin Green on 4th-and-6, and Fresno State then ran out the clock for its first win over an FBS school this season.
Sanchez said the weather definitely affected his decision to bypass sending Nicolai Bornand to try a long field goal at the end that may have forced overtime.
“With the rain that would have been a 50 yard field goal and that was a little bit much of to ask,” Sanchez said. “Besides we were in a management situation and we have to get the ball out there and we cannot hold onto it. Again that goes with preparation and the way we get those guys ready. We have to go back and do a better job at teaching them that you cannot hold onto that ball, you have to give them a shot.”
It was quite a different mood in the Fresno State locker room afterward where head coach Tim DeRuyter, feeling some heat over a surprisingly slow start, relished getting splashed by some purple Gatorade afterward.
“I smell like grape, but I guess it’s a good thing to smell like grape for the first time in a long time,” DeRuyter said.
UNLV took an early 7-0 lead on senior fullback George Naufahu’s 1-yard plunge that capped an impressive 75-yard, 13-play opening drive.
But Fresno State, trying to avoid its first three-game losing streak at Bulldog Stadium since 2006, bounced back to take a 14-7 lead on a 6-yard run by Anderson and a 17-yard run by Waller.
The Rebels, despite being outgained 202-146 in the first half, rallied to tie it 14-14 on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Palandech to sophomore wide receiver Kendal Keys just 42 seconds before halftime.
UNLV appeared to have taken control of the game when it scored two touchdowns in less than four minutes midway through the third quarter, a 2-yard run by freshman running back Xzaviar Campbell that capped a 11-play, 70-yard drive, and the 29-yard pass from Palandech to Boyd that made it 28-14 three plays after Keys recovered a fumbled punt by junior wide receiver Da’Mari Scott at the Bulldog 30.
But Fresno State, which finished with a 410-to-299 edge in total yards, clamped down defensively after that and chipped away at the lead, first with a 44-yard field goal by sophomore Jimmy Camacho and then with a 12-yard run by Anderson with 11:02 to go that cut UNLV’s lead to 28-23 and set the stage for Waller’s game-winner.
“I can’t say I’ve ever been prouder of a group than I am of this group,” DeRuyter said. “The kids have been challenged and they’ve responded.”
UNLV now gets two weeks to try and bounce back before hosting Boise State on Halloween at Sam Boyd Stadium.
“It is real hard,” Boyd said “The team is taking it tough, but you have to get back and get the work in and focus on the next game.”