A game pegged by many to be a "tune-up" for the UNLV Rebels in their home opener, the game turned out to be a nail-biter as UNLV place kicker Sergio Aguayo hit the game winner as the last 4 seconds of the game ticked off. Until that point, the 27,500 fans in attendance witnessed five lead changes and 940 yards of combined offense as the Vandals fell to UNLV 34-31 in Las Vegas.
Eerily, the first series was all too familiar to the Vandals as Idaho dug itself into a defensive hole to start the game by giving up a long TD run on the opponent's opening drive. This week, it was UNLV quarterback Shane Steichen sweeping right and keeping the ball for a 51-yard TD scamper.
With just 50 seconds burned off the clock Idaho found themselves down 7-0 on the road again.
Fortunately, for the second week in a row the Vandal defense gained their composure and played admirably throughout the rest of the game as they forced the Rebels to punt five times, picked off a pass and force two field goal attempts. The 7-0 score held throughout the first quarter as the Vandal defense dug in.
Equally important, Idaho's offense began finding a rhythm.
Idaho drives in the first quarter made progress but did not yield any points. Twice in the first quarter Idaho was within scoring distance but came away empty. First Idaho marched 58 yards in 11 plays to get to the UNLV 17 yard line. The drive stalled and Idaho set up for a field goal attempt on 4th and four. Senior Michael Harrington, Idaho's starting quarterback last week and the field goal holder the last three years, stood up and threw a perfect strike to a wide open Rolly Lumbala near the sideline. But Lumbala couldn't make the grab, and UNLV took over on downs.
Later in the first quarter, Idaho started a drive on the UNLV 31 after a 21 yard punt return by Wesley Williams. Idaho drove to the UNLV 15 yard line behind some heavy Rolly Lumbala rushing. Again Idaho lined up for the field goal, and again came away empty as Mike Barrow's 32-yard attempt in 10-20 mile-per-hour wind gusts went wide right.
Idaho's inability to score in the first quarter changed sharply in the second quarter.
|Senior RB/RS Antwaun Sherman turns the corner on his 60 yard touchdown run in the 2nd quarter.|
UNLV proceeded to march 67 yards on their next possession, moving deep into Idaho territory. On first and ten from the Idaho 13, sophomore defensive end Benjamin Alexander made one of the key plays of the game as he intercepted a UNLV pass attempt and returned it 36 yards to the Idaho 49 yard line. On first and ten, Idaho quarterback Steve Wichman connected with slot receiver Daniel Smith on a 51-yard scoring strike to give Idaho its first lead in a game this year, taking a 14-10 lead with 5:14 left in the first half.
Idaho's lead was temporary as UNLV went on an 82-yard march to close out the first half of play, taking a 17-14 lead into the locker room. But Idaho, sporting a new quarterback and wide receiver tandem, was very much in the game.
The third quarter saw Idaho's offense begin to assert itself as they posted 17 points and scored on three of their five second half possessions. Idaho's two non-scoring drives came as a result of an interception at the UNLV 16-yard line in the third quarter and a missed field goal late in the game.
Idaho did not punt once in the second half.
UNLV got the scoring started by picking off a Wichman pass deep in UNLV territory to thwart a Vandal drive that started on the Idaho 35 yard line. UNLV turned the interception into a 9 play, 83 yard drive that took 4:38 off the clock and gave the Rebels a 24-14 lead.
The Vandal offense answered with a drive that started at their own 35-yard line and ended when Wichman connected with Wendell Octave for a 20 yard scoring strike. The 7-play, 65-yard drive took 3:11 off the clock and cut UNLV's lead to 24-21 with 4:04 left in the game.
UNLV's next possession began deep in their own territory as the returner mishandled the kick and downed the ball at the 8-yard line. Idaho's defense gave up one first down, then forced the Rebels to punt which gave Idaho the ball at their own 21 yard line after a 52-yard UNLV boot.
This drive, which began in the third quarter and ended in the fourth, saw Idaho overcome two potentially drive-killing penalties to actually get into scoring position. Early in the drive, a 21-yard Sherman run was negated by a 5-yard illegal formation penalty. A couple plays later Wichman connected with Octave on a spectacular 44-yard completion that brought the ball up to the UNLV 31 yard line (this was one of 3 particularly impressive catches Wendell made on the night). But Idaho was forced to backup 15 yards when Octave was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct following the reception. Idaho recovered, driving to the UNLV 20-yard line before Wichman's pass to Octave in the corner of the endzone fell incomplete. Despite the setbacks along the way, Idaho scored as Barrow's 41-yard attempt was good to tie score at 24 points each.
Again, with momentum on their side Idaho's defense held and the Vandals took over in good field position following a UNLV punt. This time, it would be redshirt freshman tightend Rick Harrison (6-5, 240) who would come up with the critical play for the Vandals, hauling in the first pass of his career and scoring the first TD of his career at the same time on a 13 yard pass from Wichman into the corner of the endzone. The reception gave Idaho a 31-24 lead with ten minutes left in the fourth quarter.
It also gave UNLV the ball back with plenty of time to drive. Two questionable personal foul penalties helped propel the Rebels from their own 32 to Idaho endzone to tie the score at 31 each with 7:58 left in the game.
Kick returner DeAngelo Ramsey brought the ball up to the Vandal 27 and the Idaho offense took over. Highlighting the drive, on third and long and under heavy pressure, Wichman stepped up in the pocket and fired a laser to Daniel Smith who made another spectacular aerial reception at the UNLV 5 yard line. But Idaho could not punch the ball into the endzone and Wichman was sacked for a crucial 10-yard loss on third down. Facing a 31-yard field goal attempt, Barrow's kick sailed wide left and the game remained tied at 31 with four minutes left.
UNLV took over at their own 16 yard line and began a march aided by a critical fourth and long conversion to Rebel tightend Greg Estandia (6-8, 255) which moved the ball inside the Idaho 30 yard line. Three failed attempts to move the ball netted no gain, and UNLV let the clock tick down to 0:04 seconds.
The Rebels were going to hand this game to their field goal kicker to win.
Idaho called two timeouts to try and ice sophomore kicker Sergio Aguayo, but the left footed kicker delivered as he connected on his 41-yard attempt. Sam Boyd Stadium exploded in cheers as the Rebels pulled out the victory in dramatic fashion.
For the second week in a row a vastly improved Vandal team shook off long odds to make it a ball game from beginning to end. Despite an outstanding effort in all facets of the game (490 yards of offense, 31 points, and several key defensive stands), Idaho came up just short on the road.