A comeback effort after trailing by three possessions fell just short as the UNLV Rebels had their three-game win streak snapped in the regular season finale.
With a chance to host the Mountain West title game, UNLV was beaten by San Jose State, 37-31, Saturday, Nov. 25 from Allegiant Stadium. It counted as the program’s first home loss this season after opening the year 5-0 in Las Vegas.
The Rebels have now lost four straight meetings against the Spartans.
“We haven’t been in this situation many times this year,” head coach Barry Odom said. “I hate it for our team that we couldn't get it done today.”
San Jose State’s win only convoluted things at the top of the conference as now three teams are locked into a three-way tie atop the Mountain West. SJSU, UNLV and Boise State are all vying for a chance to play in this year’s conference title game.
Mountain West officials will settle on the conference title game participants and make the decision public Sunday morning. That championship-sealing game is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 2 with the location set to be announced Sunday along with the participants.
“We hate it for our team that we didn’t get that win because of what was going into that game,” Odom said. “And now we have to leave it to chance to see what happens and that’s not the way we want to live but it's what we’ve earned.”
With so much on the line, UNLV suffered a slow start on defense and special teams before the offense ever touched the field. San Jose State started the game on offense and proceeded to put up a touchdown in just five plays, sealed by a 56-yard touchdown strike.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Rebels fumbled the kick return and coughed up possession back to the Spartans. The visitors would add a field goal on the backend of the turnover to take a 10-0 stranglehold of the game in the first five minutes.
“We couldn’t have started any worse,” Odom said. “We gave up an uncovered touchdown – blown coverage. And then on the ensuing kickoff we fumbled it and they turned it into another score so we dug ourselves a hole early.”
Later in the first quarter, San Jose State scored against to go up by 17 points against a scoreless UNLV team. That deficit marked the fourth time this season that the Rebels had gone down by at least 17 points, walking away with a .500 record in such games.
Spartans quarterback Chevan Cordeiro essentially put the game on ice with three straight scoring drives in the second half after the deficit had been trimmed to a single possession. Cordeiro rifled a pass through two defenders to teammate Nick Nash for 51 yards on the way to another touchdown-producing drive.
Cordeiro threw for 249 yards and two touchdowns on 19-for-26 through the air as he improved to 5-1 record against the Rebels program in his six-year collegiate career.
Though it was a slow start, UNLV’s offense came around late in the first quarter. Moreover, the team would go on a 17-3 run in order to cut the once 17-point lead to just three points.
Freshman running back Jai’Den Thomas scored the first Rebel touchdown of the night but it was just the start for the Atlanta native. Thomas would rush for three touchdowns on the day for a grand total of 12 ground scores during his freshman year in Las Vegas.
As Thomas and the running back room kept things afloat early, the passing game took some time to come around. However, once it did freshman quarterback Jayden Maiava and junior receiver Ricky White III rekindled their connection on a 68-yard pitch-and-catch early in the third quarter.
White led all receivers in the game with 111 yards on five catches.
Maiava went 19-for-29 with 229 yards and a touchdown to fellow freshman Corey Thompson Jr. late in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to the final six-point margin.
With one final chance to tie or take the lead, UNLV suffered a turnover on downs sealing the result.
“I thought we had opportunities, we just ran out of time,” Odom said. “I had to use the timeouts on the previous drive defensively. At that point of the game, we just needed the ball back.
“We’ve executed the two-minute drill so many times this year we’ve come up on the right side of that. I thought we had opportunities and we came up short.”