Sunday, Sept. 21, 2008 | 1:40 a.m.
- UNLV sports blog about Rebels athletics
- Judgment Days: Commentary from UNLV linebacker Jason Beauchamp
- Shark Bytes: Legendary UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian shares his thoughts
- Opponent: UNR
- Date: Sept. 27, 7 p.m.
- Where: Sam Boyd Stadium
- Where: Las Vegas
About 13 fewer text messages were waiting for him on the phone, and roughly 30 kids stood outside the gates at Sam Boyd Stadium, each clamoring for his signature.
Other than that, not much changed Saturday night for UNLV freshman receiver Phillip Payne. Oh yeah, and he was carried off the field this time around by his jubilant teammates.
But in essence, another week, another dramatic late-game grab for six points, another win. Ho-hum stuff, right?
This time around, though -- as UNLV knocked off pesky Iowa State 34-31 in overtime to improve to 3-1 -- his acrobatic work in the end zone wasn't the culmination of near-perfect execution by the Rebels in the second half like it was in last week's upset at Arizona State. Instead, it masked an otherwise Jekyll & Hyde showing from Mike Sanford's club.
"I'm just very proud of our team, very proud of us finding a way to win," the relieved UNLV coach said. "I'm not pleased with the way we played in the second half. Obviously we played very well in the first half -- we let them back into the game. We were doing everything we could to guard against what happened in the second half, and I've got to give (Iowa State) credit."
If you were to just pick up the halftime box score, you would probably do two things: 1) Join Sanford in giving Iowa State a big tip of the cap and 2) Ask yourself how this game exactly wound up in overtime.
That's because for 30 minutes, UNLV fed directly off momentum created by its win in Tempe, Ariz., a week earlier. Behind 136 passing yards and three scores produced by quarterback Omar Clayton, the Rebels took a 21-0 lead into the locker room. The defense made the gap between the two squads look even wider at the time as the Cyclones were held to just one first down (compared to 14 for UNLV), and outgained in total offense, 288-38.
"We went out in the first half and we ran our game plan, did what we were supposed to do, then came out in the second half, came out a little slow, and there's kind of an attitude of 'I gotta make a play, I gotta make a play,'" UNLV defensive tackle Jacob Hales said. "Then people started doing stuff that wasn't part of the defense, and we just got away from doing our fundamentals, doing what our coaches told us to do."
The snowball began with ISU's first possession of the second half, when Austen Arnaud got the offense on track, leading a 12-play, 94-yard drive that culminated with the sophomore quarterback finding R.J. Sumrall for a 28-yard touchdown strike. The pass play came just moments after UNLV's Geoffrey Howard was called for pass interference on a third-and-5 Arnaud incompletion. It was only UNLV's second penalty of the game, and the first of four big ones the Rebels would commit in the second half.
Then, after Clayton found Ryan Wolfe over the middle for a decent-sized gain, the ball was fumbled away (UNLV's first turnover of the year) and returned by Cyclones linebacker Jesse Smith to the UNLV 10-yard line. From there, Arnaud took it in himself with a tough run straight up the gut.
ISU was born again, and it helped spark a 98-yard drive to tie the game at 28-28 in the final minute of regulation. With the Rebels' defense on its heels, Arnaud threw intermediate passes on a frantic trip down the field, going five-of-seven on the drive. His final pass -- a 28-yard bullet down the seam to Sumrall -- passed through the hands of UNLV's Lafayette Fletcher before going for the game-tying strike.
It was a different scenario heading to overtime this time around. Whereas last week UNLV scratched, clawed and willed its way into OT, now the Rebels were there because the front door was left open a few too many times.
"One thing we had to do was reverse the momentum, and that's why I called them all together and said 'OK, you've got to forget about everything that's happened up to now; and what happened on defense, you've got to forget about the end of the fourth quarter,'" Sanford recalled. "Now this overtime becomes an entity within itself, and this is where we win the game."
The Rebels knew exactly what they were working with after ISU's Grant Mahoney plugged a 37-yard field goal to start the overtime scoring. It came after UNLV tightened the screws, highlighted by a Martin Tevaseu tackle for a loss on second-and-10.
Enter Mr. Payne.
On the first snap of its turn with the ball, Iowa State appeared to have a general idea of what was coming. But Clayton put the ball to Payne's outside shoulder on a beautiful toss, and the freshman from Western High acted as if the two Cyclones defenders weren't there, pulling the ball down for his second grab of the game. He immediately flung the ball into the stands and was hoisted amidst a group of red jerseys.
"Me and him had a talk about the middle of the fourth quarter. I told him to keep his head on because it would come and there would be a play that would help us win the game," said fellow receiver Casey Flair, who had seven grabs for 92 yards and a score of his own. "And it ended up happening and he was ready for it."
It was Payne's fifth touchdown pass in four career collegiate games, and he is still perfect on chances in the red zone.
"This week I knew what the play was," Payne joked of his now-famous mistake-turned-gold a week ago. "It was fades on both sides, and I don't even think I was the primary receiver. It was a great throw by Omar. I just went up and made a play as best I could."
But while he got the hero's treatment, the two workhorses all night for the offense were Clayton and tailback Frank Summers.
Clayton finished the game having completed 15 of 21 passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns. He ran for 24 yards and another score, but his efficient arm is still the story. He now has nine touchdown passes on the year and no interceptions, and has thrown 139 consecutive pass attempts without being picked off.
Summers finished with his second straight 100-yard-plus performance on the ground, totaling 109 hashmarks on 27 carries with one score. He also caught two passes for 50 yards and another touchdown through the air.
But no one was more clear afterward than Summers regarding the general sentiment in the locker room. Following the overtime win at ASU, you'd have thought the Rebels had just won the Super Bowl and the Orange Bowl all rolled into one. This time around? Not so much.
"Obviously a little disappointed, but we've got a game to finish," Summers said of his thoughts going into overtime. "So we had to leave all emotions to the side until after the game. I'm glad we finished it out, but disappointed we had to go that far.
"I obviously think if we would have come out in the second half and played better, we would have put a stamp on it," he continued. "The great teams put people away, and we couldn't do that tonight."