Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, Nov. 8, 2009 | 2:30 a.m.
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Ryan Greene, Christine Killimayer and Rob Miech break down a 35-16 victory for the Rebels over Colorado State which was a bit tough to watch at times, but at the end of the day kept UNLV's 2009 season relevant for at least another week. Plus, a sneak peek ahead to next week's test at Air Force, where it's do-or-die all over again.
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- Opponent: Air Force (6-3)
- Date: Nov. 14, 3 p.m.
- Where: Colorado Springs, Colo.
- TV: The Mtn. (Cox Ch. 334)
- Radio: ESPN 1100 AM
- All-time series: Air Force leads, 10-4
Whether it was by noticing the smiles on their faces that displayed a sense of momentary relief or just by them flat-out saying it, Saturday night's win just felt a bit different than the previous three this season for the members of the UNLV football team.
In soundly dispatching of Colorado State on Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium by a count of 35-16, the Rebels ended the Rams' hopes of bowl eligibility, and in turn kept theirs alive by improving to 4-6 with two games still to go.
Yes, the sometimes exciting, sometimes disappointing, mostly maddening season that has been the 2009 campaign remains relevant for at least another week for coach Mike Sanford & Co.
"It's a lot more intense, I'll tell you that," senior receiver Jerriman Robinson said of the Rebels' do-or-die evening in front of 15,902 fans. "Every day in practice is precious, every rep is precious. We take every day like it's going to be our last. Everyone's on their toes, making sure we're on our p's and q's, knowing that this could be our last (meaningful) game."
And guess what? Now they get to do it all over again next weekend at Air Force. Then, if they're fortunate enough to somehow pull that one off, for the second consecutive season, a postseason berth would come down to a meeting with San Diego State.
But for at least a day, the Rebels can enjoy one of their most efficient, sound showings of the season.
UNLV took the dominant position on Colorado State for the first time in the final minute of the first half.
With Colorado State having just tied the game up, 7-7, and milking plenty of the clock to that point in the evening, junior quarterback Omar Clayton engineered a stunning six-play, 72-yard drive which consumed all of 49 seconds. It included a 20-yard connection with senior Ryan Wolfe, a 28-yard pass to sophomore Michael Johnson on a third-and-nine play, then a 13-yard touchdown toss to Robinson with less than a minute to go before intermission.
"It was really great to get it," Clayton said of grabbing the 14-7 halftime edge. "I didn't expect to get it that quickly, but we did."
And UNLV would hold it the rest of the way. The Rebels opened the second half by marching 75 yards in eight plays, with sophomore QB Mike Clausen scoring the first of his two five-yard second half touchdown runs to open things up at 21-7.
Both drives were models of efficiency, which was key for UNLV the entire night.
Colorado State pulled out all the stops in attempting to avoid its seventh consecutive loss following a 3-0 start to the season. The Rams mixed tricky pass plays with straight-ahead runs to hold the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game (37:59). While UNLV's time of possession was only 22:01, it avoided mistakes, averaged a healthy 5.1 yards per run as a team and scored touchdowns on all four trips inside of CSU's 20-yard line.
"The best thing about us was efficiency on offense tonight," Sanford said. "They were trying everything in the book today. They were running double passes, reverses, reverse passes, flea-flickers, everything. Our guys, I thought, did a good job of recognizing those."
The defense certainly bent at times, but on top of Colorado State repeatedly shooting itself in the feet with penalties, the UNLV defense came up with just enough big plays to keep momentum on its side.
Senior linebacker Jason Beauchamp led the way with 14 tackles, while junior cornerback Quinton Pointer had seven stops with two huge takedowns for losses. Senior safety Marquel Martin sealed the win for good with a fourth quarter interception.
UNLV came into the game ranked alone in last out of 120 FBS programs with just two interceptions this season, but Martin's first career pick gave the Rebels their first interception in 30 quarters. The last one came on Sept. 19 in a victory at home over Hawaii.
On offense, Clayton had the steady hand all night. Along with getting the game's scoring started with a thrilling 28-yard touchdown run down the left sideline, he was 10-of-17 for 147 yards and the aforementioned TD toss to Robinson.
He also had the luxury of working hand-in-hand with a consistent running attack. Five different Rebels had at least 22 yards on the ground.
More important for Clayton, however, as UNLV heads into another pressure cooker next week, it was the third game in a row in which Clayton hasn't thrown an interception.
"I feel like as an entire offense, we did a good job," he said. "We were able to get our running game going, which was really solid.
"The defense did a great job. Any time you can get momentum going in a football, it's crucial, so it's good to get it going on both sides of the ball."
Next week's foe, Air Force, will pose a tougher challenge than Colorado State did, though.
The Falcons relieved a bit of pressure of their own, as they gained bowl eligibility earlier in the day on Saturday with a 35-7 romp at home over Army, which improved them to 6-3.
They appear to have found a nice groove late in the season, and while their vaunted rush offense ranks fourth in the nation, its supported by a defense that ranks seventh.
Still, the Rebels are glad to be heading to Colorado Springs still playing for something more than just pride.
"It feels good," Beauchamp said. "I'm just glad the team played together. The defense was hungry, we're on a mission here in November. I'm just glad to get everyone's spirits up. Hopefully we carry this over into Air Force."