REBELS FOOTBALL:

UNLV lets lead slip, falls in 2010 home finale to Air Force, 35-20

Defense can’t hold late after offense misses opportunity to back Falcons into a corner

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Justin M. Bowen

Tim Jefferson of Air Force breaks through the UNLV line to score a touchdown against the Rebels.

UNLV-Air Force Football

Senior Omar Clayton of UNLV walks off the field at Sam Boyd stadium for the last time Thursday after Air Force beat the Rebels 35-20. Launch slideshow »

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When it came down to making a decision with his offense facing a fourth-and-three in the third quarter deep in Air Force territory, UNLV coach Bobby Hauck figured he really didn't have much to lose.

At that point, the Rebels held a 17-14 lead in a game where they were listed as 19-point underdogs and had a little momentum going after the Falcons lost a fumble to open the second half at Sam Boyd Stadium.

UNLV hasn't had many opportunities to go for an opponent's jugular in 2010, and Hauck saw one right in front of him.

The call — a power run up the gut — didn't pan out, and Air Force pounced, scoring three more touchdowns to run away with a 35-20 victory on Thursday night.

"I'd probably still do it again, if anybody wanted to ask," Hauck said in his postgame press conference. "With their style of offense, we had a chance to put them down two scores. A field goal puts us up six if we in fact make it; our last (extra point try) had been shaky, and I just thought it was the right thing to do.

"It was about trying to get up by two scores and put a little pressure on them, because we'd played well to that point. But we'd played well because we'd been able to keep the ball and stay ahead of the game a little bit."

The fact that the Rebels (2-9 overall, 2-5 Mountain West) were able to stay ahead of the Falcons (8-4, 5-3) to that point was impressive by itself, considering that they essentially handed Air Force's first score over to them.

On the game's opening drive, senior quarterback Omar Clayton's first pass attempt went through the hands of junior receiver Phillip Payne, turning into an interception that was taken back to inside UNLV's 10-yard line.

Air Force scored a touchdown three plays later, but UNLV answered with an impressive 11-play, 62-yard drive capped by a Tim Cornett 2-yard touchdown plunge.

The Falcons were unable to strike back, as Nathan Walker's fumble inside the UNLV five-yard line set up the drive that would help the Rebels take control of the game's pace.

Over the next 10 minutes of game time, consuming chunks of the first and second quarters, they went 83 yards over 21 plays. Though the drive was ended with a 32-yard Nolan Kohorst field goal, it definitely threw the Falcons' no-huddle, run-oriented attack into a funk.

When Air Force fumbled on the second half's third play, Hauck knew that his best chance to keep the chips in his corner was to gamble big on fourth down.

After the run play fell about a yard short of the sticks, Air Force junior Tim Jefferson, playing with a broken nose suffered last Saturday against New Mexico, took charge.

The Falcons would end up posting 169 of their 343 rushing yards in the third quarter alone, including a crippling 54-yard scoring run by receiver Jonathan Warzeka that gave them the lead for good at 21-17.

"Those guys have a weird way of breaking off scores out of nowhere," Clayton said. "They do what they do and they make it work for them. They have to get at least one of those every game ... at least every time I've played them.

"It was on us to keep scoring to keep the game competitive."

Though the Rebels couldn't ultimately keep up in the shootout, the night was far from ugly in the final home game for 19 seniors.

Clayton, after the ball out of Payne's hands that went for a pick, was 18-of-29 for 224 yards and a score.

UNLV picked up 18 first downs, totaled 337 yards of offense, held the ball for 30:21 and was 10-of-15 on third downs.

The defense made some big plays in the first half and looked spry, but as Air Force took over in the second half, the Rebels simply didn't have enough gas left to last.

Against the fast-paced option attack of the Falcons', few do. In the end, 62 of Air Force's 71 plays were of the run variety.

Jefferson, on top of a 7-of-9 passing performance with 111 yards and a TD toss, ran for a modest 64 yards and three scores on 16 carries.

"They're awfully good running the ball," Hauck said. "I thought as the game wore on, we don't have a ton of guys to go to and it's tiring when they keep hammering the fullback, pulling it, cutting you, getting you on the ground. It's a hard offense to play against. As the plays mount, it's difficult."

What was encouraging for the season-low 13,790 fans who turned out, though, was that UNLV appears poised to avoid going in the tank with two tough road tests still left.

The first of those will be next Saturday at San Diego State (7-3, 4-2). That will be followed by another bowl-bound foe a week later in Hawaii (7-3, 5-1 WAC).

"It's encouraging that we're doing things better on offense and defense, and we're showing some improvement," Clayton said. "We just need to continue to work on that and try to get a win next week."

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  1. Hauck's controversial call early in Q3 defied the coventional wisdom to seize all point opportunities and retain the momentum as long as possible. The air went immediately out of the team and hanging the place kicker in public for part of the decision is foolish. I hope the team will rally from this defeat and the coach's public relations gaffe to finish strong. The small crowd was otherwise treated to a credible effort on the field, a stirring tribute to the military services from the band, showmanship from the RebelGirls and spirit from the cheering squad on a night which was pleasant weather-wise. It was well worth being there.

  2. Going for it on 4th and three early in the second half was the right move. I was excited to see Hauck go for it, but then instantly dumbfounded when I watched us look to run it straight ahead on another dive play in that circumstance. We needed three long yards... not three inches. If that's the best play we have in that situation then kick the FG every single time without hesitation.

    Not much innovation on offense. Still way too conservative on defense (we're afraid to blitz at certain times needed too). Frustrated over our coaches a bit last night.

  3. A great matchup would be UNLV against Bishop Gorman. It would be a nailbiter to the end. I do think UNLV would be a contender in high school football, so let's "get her on".

  4. Rebels played well but only in the first half

  5. I like the growth the team has shown. The game was watchable, in past had to turn the channel out of frustration. The team looks better playing Haucks freshman recruits , thats great for the future.

  6. credit these kids a lil bit they played hard and air force is a damn good team - i would've liked to see them throw it there on 4th ... not to enable phil but for goodness sake the only thing that worked for this football team on the field during the sanford catastrophe was the payne fade ... maybe teams are better at defending it but i'd be willing to waste at least one down to give it a shot ... im disappointed they didn't do that more and im also disappointed omar didn't take off more often ... the kids not the most athletic but he's still a pretty good athlete ... that was what got him the job as a freshmen in the first place ... i still think the program needs time before we make an honest assesment - on TO wisconsin