Rebels Lose Heartbreaker To Bulldogs 31-24

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Photo by Kalin Sipes.

The Fresno State Bulldogs defeated the UNLV Rebels by a score of 31-24 at Valley Children’s Stadium on Oct. 28.

UNLV Football had some early success on its first drive with a couple of runs from Vincent Davis Jr. and a play-action pass completed to midfield from Jayden Maiava to Ricky White for 16 yards. 

However, this would quickly end after the Rebels’ next set of downs ended soon on a three-and-out and forced the Rebels to punt the ball to the Bulldog offense. 

On the Bulldog’s first offensive drive, they attacked the Rebel’s secondary early as Bulldog quarterback Mikey Keene dropped back in a four-receiver set through the first two sets of downs, pushing the ball past midfield. 

On the eighth play of the drive, Keene connected on a long pass downfield to Tim Grear Jr. for a 31-yard touchdown catch to put the Bulldogs on top early, 7-0.

On UNLV’s second offensive drive of the game, they looked to respond, and they found success off of the back of two third-down conversions, pushing the ball to the Bulldog side of the field. 

On the ensuing play, Maiava found a streaking White across mid-field on a slant route and racked up the yards after the catch, taking it to the end-zone for a 41-yard touchdown to tie the game 7-7. 

On the Bulldog’s second drive of the game, they looked to build on a positive early offensive game plan. Still, the Rebel defense had other plans, forcing a quick three-and-out highlighted by tackles for loss by both Cameron Oliver and Jackson Woodard, allowing UNLV an opportunity to gain their first lead of the game. 

However, the first play of the drive was snuffed out as Donavyn Lester was tackled for a loss by defensive lineman Isaiah Johnson, setting up a second-and-long for Maiava and the Rebels.

This would end up causing the Rebel’s drive to come to a standstill, and the Bulldogs forced UNLV to punt, giving the ball right back to the Fresno State offense. 

This drive for the Bulldogs would end.  

Although the Rebels only had to travel 40 yards for a touchdown, a costly illegal forward pass penalty would force the Rebels into a third-and-long situation. Still, a pass caught by tight end Kaleo Ballunguay gave the Rebels a first down. 

Although UNLV’s drive had the dramatic flair after a couple of crucial stops by Fresno State’s defense, the Rebels were forced to settle for a field goal as kicker Jose Pizano knocked it through the uprights from 30 yards out to give the Rebels a 10-7 lead. 

With the football back, the Bulldogs looked to at least even up the score but looked to find the end-zone to take a four-point lead, but the drive was stopped dead in its tracks after an offensive holding call forced a punt after a three-and-out for the second straight drive and one first down on the past three purposes. 

After a fair catch by Jacob De Jesus on the punt return, the Rebels set up the opportunity to go ahead by two scores, and they looked good to do so after three third down conversions by De Jesus and Maiava to push the ball into Fresno State territory. 

However, the Bulldogs’ defense followed the saying “bend, don’t break,” forcing a punt on the Rebels drive just out of field goal range to force a punt. 

On the following drive for the Bulldogs, it was much the same as another three-and-out, giving the ball straight back to the Rebels with another scoring opportunity after the fair catch on the punt return.

After two tackles for loss, the Rebels faced a large third-and-long, but once again, Maiava found UNLV tight end Ballunguay for a significant first-down conversion. This conversion powered the Rebels to a nine-play, 72-yard drive that ended in a two-yard touchdown run by true freshman Jai’den Thomas to extend the Rebel lead to 17-7 to end the first half of play. 

Opening up the second half of football, the Bulldogs received the football after deferring the opening contest as they looked to get back into the game with an early score after taking the ball out to the 23-yard line on the return. 

The first drive for the Bulldogs in the second half opened up in a big way with a significant completion of 20 yards to midfield, but the next set of downs again resulted in a punt. 

Although the Rebels looked to get the ball back with a chance to extend the lead, a muffed punt by De Jesus resulted in a first down for the Bulldogs in the red zone, and they did not miss the opportunity to score a touchdown off a 2-yard pass to Mac Delena to make the score 17-14. 

With the Rebels receiving the ball back, the Bulldogs looked to continue to hold the momentum, and they did just that, forcing a quick three-and-out. The Rebels returned the ball to the Fresno State offense with an opportunity to take their first lead since the opening drive. 

It did not take long for the Bulldogs to return deep into Rebel territory as Keene connected with veteran receiver Jalen Moss for a 60-yard catch, giving Fresno State a chance to take a four-point lead with a touchdown. 

While the Rebels did force a third down, the Bulldogs found a way to connect in the endzone with a one-handed grab from receiver Erik Brooks to give the Bulldogs up 21-17 and fourteen unanswered points for Fresno State.

Receiving the ball back, the Rebels looked to attempt to get back into the ball game after having just two yards of offense to that point in the second half. Still, it ended quickly as Maiava threw his third interception of the season, giving the Bulldogs the ball back in UNLV territory, which led to more points against the Rebels in the form of a field goal as Fresno State kicker Dylan Lynch extended the lead to 24-17. 

In the following possession for the Rebels, once again, a disaster for the team struck as Thomas fumbled the ball on the first snap, returning it to the Bulldogs in excellent field position again as they looked to add to their seven-point lead. 

With the ball back, Malik Sherrod added to the Bulldogs lead with a three-yard touchdown reception to give them a 31-17 lead and 24 unanswered points as the third quarter ended. 

With the Rebels on their heels, they looked to attempt to climb back into the matchup, and they did just that as Maiava connected with White three times on a six-play drive, including a 15-yard completion for a touchdown to cut the lead down to seven 31-24. 

As the Bulldogs returned to the field and looked to continue its offensive pressure, the tides changed when Keene threw his second interception of the night to defensive back Oliver, giving the Rebels possession on the Bulldog side of the field. 

The Rebels kept their foot on the gas pedal and powered their way inside the five-yard-line, but after four plays, the Rebels turned the ball over on downs, and the Bulldogs took possession with four minutes remaining in the game. 

However, with the harsh field position after the turnover on downs, the Bulldogs were forced to punt after a quick three-and-out, returning the ball to the Rebels with one timeout remaining and two minutes left in the game. 

In the final seconds of regulation, Maiava found a target in Senika McKie, but the pass could not be completed in the end zone. On the ensuing play, Maiava would throw his second interception of the game, resulting in the second loss of the season for the Rebels. 

Up Next

The Rebels will look to bounce back on Nov. 4 at 3 p.m. and return to the win column on the road, taking on the New Mexico Lobos.

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