All season long, the Rebels have put together competitive performances against quality opponents, no matter how much better the opponent was.
But any positive momentum UNLV had put together in the final three weeks of the season was wiped away in a 48-14 loss to Air Force Friday afternoon.
“Tonight wasn’t that night,” head coach Marcus Arroyo said after the loss. “Tonight was a night where we let some things get in the way and I have to figure that out, that’s my job. I didn’t get these guys ready to play well enough and you can’t execute against a team like that and expect success. We have to do a better job.”
The first play of the game was a precursor for how things would fare for the Rebels when returner Steve Jenkins fumbled the opening kickoff that Air Force recovered in the red zone. Three plays later RB Brad Roberts ran it in from a yard out to give the Falcons an early 7-0 lead.
Air Force capitalized on another UNLV mistake on the ensuing drive when QB Justin Rogers was sacked and lost the football. The Falcons recovered and scored again when Roberts had a 3-yard touchdown run.
UNLV had an opportunity early in the second quarter to get its first points of the game on a Daniel Gutierrez field goal attempt. But holder Evan Silva fumbled the snap and the Rebels could not get a kick off.
The Falcons turned another Rebel mistake into points as they got a field goal of their own to go up 17-0 midway through the second quarter.
Before the half, Air Force had just enough time for one more score. After a Rebel punt, WR Brandon Lewis took the handoff on the first play of the drive and ran for a 41-yard touchdown, giving the Falcons a 24-0 halftime lead.
Air Force did not take its foot off the gas in the second half. The Falcons added another touchdown when QB Zachary Larrier had a 12-yard touchdown run that capped off a eight-play, 75-yard drive.
The Rebels went three and out on its first drive of the half, giving it right back to the dominant Falcon ground attack.
FB Emmanuel Michel had a 62-yard run that set up a first and goal for Air Force. They went back to Michel on the next two plays and he rushed it in the third play of the drive on a 2-yard touchdown run.
UNLV finally got on the board midway through the third quarter when an Air Force late hit out of bounds gave UNLV a small boost. On the next play, Rogers connected with WR Zyell Griffin for a 55-yard pass completion. RB Charles Williams rushed it in from a yard out on the next play to make the score 38-7 Air Force.
The Falcons added more points on a 38-yard field goal on the ensuing drive. And after another Rebel three and out, the Falcons pieced together a 14 play, 63-yard drive that QB Jensen Jones capped off with an 8-yard run.
Williams, who played his final game for the Rebels, made one last impact while donning the scarlet and gray. On the first play from scrimmage of the Rebel drive, Williams rushed for 72 yards that brought the Rebels inside the 5-yard line. Williams pounded it in on the next play on a 3-yard touchdown run, marking the final touchdown of his UNLV career and the game as the Falcons ran out the clock the rest of the way to take the win.
Air Force rushed for 511 yards on 69 attempts without attempting a pass. Five different Falcons scored touchdowns and six rushers had more than six yards per carry. The Falcons also controlled the time of possession (40:49-19:11).
“Fumbling on the opening snap, not executing in the first quarter, fumbling and not being able to protect each other, dropping balls, and a lack of execution versus a quality opponent, especially late in the season is always tough,” Arroyo said.
Williams was the lone bright spot for the Rebels with 137 total yards on the ground on 16 carries and two touchdowns. Williams finishes with 4,201 rushing yards, the most in UNLV football history. He also ranks fourth in the school record books in rushing touchdowns (34) and 100-yard games (15).
“I just wanted to finish it off on a strong note,” Williams said after his final game with the Rebels. “There was a lot of time left on the clock and you have to give it all to the boys, and I just felt like in my last time playing with them I could give it my all.”
The Rebels were without QB Cameron Friel and WR Kyle Williams. And on defense, they were missing DB Phillip Hill and LB Austin Ajiake.
UNLV finishes the season 2-10 and is now 2-16 under Marcus Arroyo. The Rebels had six losses decided by one score or less but will have the offseason to deal with the bad taste in their mouths after a 34-point loss to close the season.
UNLV coaches will now get ready for the recruiting road before early signing day. The players will get a much-needed break with finals coming up and get ready for winter conditioning after the school year ends.
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