Rebels lose double-digit lead, fall to Spartans 27-20

Photo Courtesy of UNLV Athletics

Up 17-6, UNLV was set to go into halftime with the lead and all the momentum after playing a solid first half against San Jose State.

But in a disastrous turn of events, a fumble from UNLV RB Charles Williams gave San Jose State possession with under 20 seconds remaining. The Spartans capitalized on the turnover and scored two plays later. 

That was one of the few plays in the second half that turned the tide of the game and gave San Jose State multiple opportunities to overcome the double-digit deficit and beat UNLV 27-20. 

“It’s frustrating losing these close games, but at the end of the day, we have to find a way to finish,” senior linebacker Austin Ajiake said after the loss. “It’s always like three or four plays throughout the game that change the way the game goes.”

San Jose State took its first lead of the game in the fourth quarter, and there were two more crucial plays that impacted the final outcome of the game that the Rebels would want to have back. 

Tied 20-20 and facing a 4th an 1, UNLV head coach Marcus Arroyo decided to settle for a field goal. Kicker Daniel Gutierrez had been automatic for the Rebels, making all 11 of his field goals to this point of the season, including his past 16 dating back to last season, which is a school record. 

But Gutierrez’s kick was blocked, and San Jose State gained possession. Arroyo said that there was no hesitation in deciding to go for a field goal, given how great Gutierrez has been all season. 

“It will be one of them, those are critical plays in the game,” Arroyo said on the blocked field goal being a play the coaches will look back on as changing the outcome of the game. 

“It’s uncharacteristic of us, (Daniel Gutierrez) has done a really good job kicking field goals. Another opportunity for three points, in his range. Those are one of the four to six things that stick out in games like this that can change the tide.”

A few plays later, San Jose State WR Isaiah Holiness broke free for a 54-yard run to set up the Spartans in the red zone. But the Rebels had an opportunity to end the drive as Holiness fumbled the ball near the end of his run. The Spartans recovered, and shortly after, San Jose State QB Nick Nash ran it for a touchdown from 15 yards out. San Jose State took its first lead of the game, 27-20, and did not look back.

On the final drive of the game, the Rebels drove into Spartan territory with a chance to tie the game or potentially win it. But some poor clock management and protection breakdowns ended UNLV’s chances of a comeback. The final play was a fitting way to end the game, as UNLV QB Cameron Friel was sacked hard for the fifth time and ran down the rest of the clock. 

Early on, it appeared that the Rebels were on track to get their first win under Marcus Arroyo. On the opening kickoff, Gutierrez kicked it short and the Spartans fumbled the kick. UNLV recovered and capitalized with the game’s first score when Friel hit WR Steve Jenkins for a 12-yard touchdown. 

Leading 10-3 in the second quarter, the Rebel defense gave the offense a short field to work with when DL Tavis Malakius forced a fumble that DB Bryce Jackson recovered. That led to a touchdown run from RB Charles Williams that gave the Rebels a 17-3 lead. 

A Spartan field goal and a touchdown off the Charles Williams fumble made it a one-score game and served as key moments that gave San Jose State the win. 

At 0-7 on the season, this is the fifth game the Rebels have lost by single digits. In each of those games, UNLV had a chance in the fourth quarter to tie, take the lead, or in the case of last week against Utah State, pad its lead. 

“Our guys are bummed out about not making those (crucial) plays,” Arroyo said. “I know we are, I know we’re crushed. It’s the fifth game in the fourth quarter, we feel like we are matched up and we have to make sure we go back and look at how we can finish a game.”

UNLV travels up north to face the Nevada Wolf Pack, its in-state rival, on Friday, Oct. 29 at 7:00 p.m. The last time the Rebels were in Reno, they beat the Wolf Pack in overtime to win the Fremont Cannon for the second straight season.

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