Erase everything you thought you knew about the Rebels. UNLV’s 27–24 win over San Diego State University has completely changed the Rebels season and how they go into the future. The victory over the Aztec broke a six-game losing streak, and was the first road win for UNLV this year. UNLV was able to take down their long-time foes, a team they haven’t beaten since 2013, by playing sound football in every facet of the game.
Before either team took the field, UNLV studied the tapes and came in prepared. In his mid-week press conference, head coach Tony Sanchez said, “It’s a game we’re going to have to really understand is a big, physical contest.”
Sophomore quarterback Max Gilliam had a game-high 237 passing yards, senior Lexington Thomas led everyone with 133 rushing yards and senior kicker Evan Pantels made both of his field goals. Both of Pantels’ kicks came in the first quarter, which the Rebels finished with a 6–0 lead. On the first drive of the second quarter, SDSU overtook UNLV with a 13-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Christian Chapman.
Chapman finished the game with 92 passing yards, one passing touchdown and one interception. In his past two starts against the Rebels totaled 387 passing yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. UNLV countered with a, seemingly unstoppable, 8-play touchdown drive. The touchdown was the first of the game for Thomas. When the Aztecs stepped back on the field on offense, Chapman was nowhere to be found.
Head coach Rocky Long decided to bring in junior Ryan Agnew under center. Before the game, Long announced that Agnew would play at least one drive. Agnew wound up playing the remainder of the night. Before the end of the half, junior running back Juwan Washington fell into the endzone, giving the Aztecs a 14–13 lead.
It was all SDSU in the third quarter, scoring 10 unanswered points through a field goal and a touchdown pass from Agnew to sophomore Tim Wilson Jr., his second of the game. When the third quarter came to a close, UNLV was down 11, needing 15 more minutes of staunch defense and a little bit of offensive luck. On their first drive in the fourth, UNLV spent almost six minutes working their way down the field. The drive ended with an endzone celebration from junior wide receiver Brandon Presley.
With UNLV within one possession and the clock ticking down, all SDSU had to do was hold the Rebels outside of the endzone. Unfortunately for them, Thomas took a handoff 75 yards for the game-winning touchdown. While the Rebels did ride a dominant defense to victory, it was evident how much the SDSU backfield has changed. As a team, San Diego State ran for 89 yards, led by Washington’s 66 yards. This was their lowest rushing total against the Rebels since 2013 when they picked up 88 yards on the ground.
This could also be the beginning of the end for sophomore Armani Rogers’ career as the Rebels starter. Still out with a toe injury, Rogers has had to watch from the sideline as Gilliam struggled in his first few games. Every game until he took down the, then, 7–2 Aztecs. Gilliam looked completely different against SDSU in hostile territory.
He was poised and was able to lead a balanced offensive attack with Thomas. Under Rogers, the team was always run heavy and Gilliam is making them a legitimate threat in the air. If he plays well against the University of Hawai’i and Reno in the final weeks of the season, Gilliam should be the favorite next fall under center.
Unfortunately, with UNLV sitting at 3–7 and two games left on the schedule, the Rebels will be sitting at home once again during Bowl season, so fans don’t need to worry about buying their tickets just yet. Vegas locals can just sit back and enjoy the next few weeks and look forward to what the future might hold.