UNLV FOOTBALL:

Sanford, UNLV seniors get last taste of victory with 28-24 triumph

Clayton, Payne and the defense complete comeback, as win against SDSU ends Rebels’ 2009 campaign with a 5-7 mark

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Justin M. Bowen

UNLV head coach Mike Sanford embraces Malo Taumua after the team’s 24-20 season-ending win against San Diego State on Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium.

San Diego State vs UNLV

UNLV overcame a 17-point deficit to send its 16 seniors and Mike Sanford out on a 28-24 win over San Diego State Saturday.

UNLV-San Diego State Football

UNLV receiver Phillip Payne beats Dey Juan Hemmings of San Diego State for a touchdown during the season finale for both teams Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium. UNLV won the game 24-20. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

POSTGAME EDITION: Rebels produce winners across the board on busy day

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Ryan Greene, Christine Killimayer and Ray Brewer discuss a busy day in UNLV athletics, including the hoops squad's resounding 76-71 victory over No. 16 Louisville at the Mack and the football team's sendoff to coach Mike Sanford and its 16 seniors coming in the form of a 28-24 come-from-behind victory at home over San Diego State.

Now, those remaining within the UNLV football program can at least sit and wait for impending change with smiles on their faces.

The Rebels sent their senior class — along with fired fifth-year coach Mike Sanford — off with a win, defeating San Diego State 28-24 in comeback fashion on Saturday night at a sparsely populated Sam Boyd Stadium.

The announced crowd of 13,730 — which in reality was probably less than half of that — saw UNLV erase what at one point was a 24-7 Aztec lead in the second half.

"In my mind, I was thinking it was unreal," senior linebacker Jason Beauchamp said of the deficit. "I think the biggest thing is I never lost hope, but yeah, definitely for a second I was wondering how this could be happening in my last game as a senior."

Beauchamp's unit, oddly enough, was largely responsible for the turnaround.

One of the most porous defenses in the Football Bowl Subdivision ranks all season, the Rebels created momentum with big plays, and more importantly, sustained that positive energy.

Junior quarterback Omar Clayton scored on a seven-yard run mid-way through the third quarter to pull UNLV within 10 points at 24-14, but the biggest play of the comeback came early in the final stanza.

San Diego State QB Ryan Lindley had a pass tipped up in the air by defensive end Malo Taumua. Already charging on a safety blitz, senior Terrance Lee snatched the ball from its flight in full stride, gliding untouched for a 40-yard score.

It went in the books as UNLV's first — and only — defensive touchdown of the season.

Kyle Watson missed a 37-yard field goal with just over three minutes to play which could have tied it up for the Rebels, but the defense came through with a three-and-out stop, capped by a sack of Lindley by senior end Heivaha Mafi.

UNLV got one more shot, and this time wouldn't let it slip.

The offense, which had sputtered for much of the evening in terms of efficiency, went 56 yards in three plays, including a 35-yard pass from Clayton to senior Jerriman Robinson, and then a 17-yard TD strike from Clayton to sophomore Phillip Payne with 1:24 to play.

"It wouldn't be right if it didn't end with a last-second game-winner from Phillip Payne," said Clayton, who celebrated with more flair than normal following the connection. "I can't even explain to you how good it feels to end the season with a smile and on a good note. Just especially being down, I didn't play well in the first half really at all. I just kind of came out in the second half and decided to make it happen."

After going 11-of-18 for 125 yards and two interceptions in the first half, Clayton went 10-of-17 for 149 yards and both a TD toss and a scoring run after the intermission.

"Not only did the season not go well, but we don't know as players what to look forward to, because the guys who recruited us, the guys we've been with for years and built relationships with, they're not gonna be here," said Clayton, one of the squad's key underclassmen.

For Payne, the TD capped a slump-busting performance, of sorts. After fading down the season's final stretch and being plagued by a case of the drops, he caught five passes for 107 yards and his seventh touchdown of the season. The showing couldn't have come at a better time, as he was key in filling in for senior Ryan Wolfe, whose career ended a week prematurely after both the school's and Mountain West Conference's all-time leading pass-catcher broke his foot in practice during the bye week.

"Last home game, I felt bad because I was just dropping everything," he said. "It felt good to come back home and make some plays and send coach Sanford out with a win, because he's done everything for me."

Still, the defense made it all possible.

As a unit, the Rebels recorded eight tackles for loss, three sacks, broke up six passes and had two interceptions. Leading the way was Beauchamp, who had 15 tackles, 2.5 for loss and a QB takedown.

It may have not come until a somewhat meaningless regular season finale, but it was one of UNLV's more complete performances in a disappointing 5-7 season.

"This has been a very difficult year. It's been a very difficult last two weeks," said Sanford, who ended his five-year run at UNLV with a 16-43 record. "But it's funny, because when you have a difficult time, there's all kinds of great things that come out of it."

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  1. I'm as sorry as anyone that things did not work out here coach. Good luck to you and all that you do.

  2. If the defense would have done what they did in the second half against SDSU all season he'd have won at least 2 more games this year, gone to a bowl game and still be the head man. That being said good luck to all the coaches in the future.

  3. bring sanford back

  4. I was one of the few at the game and the team played 52 minutes of completely uninspired ball. Most of the pass plays the D-Line looked like they were sleepwalking. Maybe in Sanford had brought in a defensive coach, he would still have a job.

  5. do you remove my comments or i just can't find what i wrote due to a cyber virus?

  6. Sanford's postgame comments on TV, we have gone through so much all season long and I am happy for these kids today.

    Gone through so much all season? Not happy for the fans to get this win. Did they not deserve to see a team win when they purchased tickets to watch the Rebels play?

    He also comments that UNLV has back to back winning records at home for the first time since when ever. Sorry blow hard Sanford - all anyone asked was that you get bowl eligible and beat Nevada. You did neither. Do you think anyone will be talking about winning records at home in the off season?

    It is so easy to see why Sanford never understood UNLV and the community by his comments. No wonder he could not get boosters to put money in for a new locker room?

    It is all about himself and seeing the departures of Weis, Al Groh at Virginia and Steve Kragthorpe at Louisville - they left with class. Sanford can be only put into the same batch as Tommy West of Memphis - complain about what you dont have and never blame yourself for errors that you made among things that you could control.

    He makes a comment on local LV radio about how he always recruited Las Vegas kids and did so harder than anyone else. He apparently did not see the comments of DP RB Michael Ball - how UNLV never offered until Nevada gave him an offer.

    His comments wont help him land his next job and frankly should be challenged more than what we have seen by any media outlet in town. He did not love UNLV like Charlie Weis did at Notre Dame. But, he was the same as Weis in his ego being larger than life.

    When he takes his first class seat to the Coaches Convention in January, watch how he will brag about his ability. I can not see him on a major coaching staff in the near future, as his complaining and lack of work are too evident to any Coach in their right mind to see.

  7. kirkland, you are just as classless. The man is gone now. He is no longer the coach and the season is over. You want to come on here now and piss and moan about him even as he is finished as the UNLV coach? How about having a little class and just shut the heck up already? Quit being the blow-hard you accuse Sanford to be. What happened in the past is in the past. What's important now is the powers that be learn from it and make the right decisions for the future. All of your dribble now is pointless! Would you like some cheese with your "whine"? Sheesh...give everybody a break!