The UNLV Rebels traveled for the first time since its SEC win over the Vanderbilt Commodores and found success against the UTEP Miners with a 45-28 win, pushing their record to 3-1 through week four.
Running back Jaiden Thomas and Freshman Jayden Maiava led the Rebels to the victory over the minors as Thomas recorded 100 yards rushing and tied a school record with four touchdowns in the game. Maiava threw for a 55.6 completion percentage and 190 yards.
After the game, Rebel head coach Barry Odom said, “I’m so thrilled that we got the win. Jet with four touchdowns, and we had 300 yards rushing. Six total rushing touchdowns, that’s a great output by our offense and offensive line. The coaches put together the game plan, and then the players executed it. That was a big-time effort.”
The scene was set in El Paso on Saturday night as the Rebels moved into enemy territory to take on the University of El Paso Texas Miners at the Sun Bowl.
The Rebels were coming off a thrilling final-second victory over Vanderbilt 40-37 with a game-winning field goal by Jose Pizano.
The biggest story of the week three win was that of the Rebel quarterbacks, as star Doug Brumfield was forced to leave the game early after sustaining an injury during the game’s first drive.
True freshman Maiava and hometown kid from Liberty High School took over for Brumfield and found immediate success in Barry Odom’s offensive scheme.
The Rebels began the game with the football and had the first opportunity to put points on the board on the road. On the Rebel’s first drive, they picked up two first downs. However, they stalled before reaching midfield and were forced to punt to the Miner offense.
UNLV forced a three-and-out on the Miner’s first drive, and on fourth down, Rebel defensive back Cameren Jenkins blocked the punt attempt. The blocked punt gave UNLV excellent field position inside the red zone at the 12-yard line.
On the first snap of the second drive, UNLV quarterback Maiava handed the ball off to Jai’Den Thomas for a 12-yard touchdown run to give the Rebels a 7-0.
Despite the quick strike from UNLV, the Miners answered back with a long drive of their own, taking the football 75 yards in 11 plays, and it was capped off by a one-yard touchdown off a quarterback sneak by Gavin Hardison, making the score 7-7.
When the Rebels received the ball for its third chance on offense, the duel threats on the ground of Vincent Davis Jr. and Thomas broke through the Miner’s defense with two long runs from both Vincent Davis Jr. for 56 yards, and Thomas recorded his second touchdown of the game with a 17-yard run to put the Rebels back on top 14-7.
UNLV was driving to start off the second quarter with a highlight reel 21-yard diving grab by wide receiver Senika McKie. The Rebels drive stalled near midfield on fourth and short, resulting in a turnover on downs.
UTEP took over as they looked to tie the game again, and it was a one-man show by running back Torrence Burgess Jr., who recorded 52 yards on the drive that was capped off by another quarterback sneak by Hardison, knotting the game 14-14.
In the backend of the first half, the Rebels would take possession of the ball, looking to both kill some of the remaining clock and score a touchdown that would put them ahead going into halftime.
On second and long, a long pass completed to Ricky White for 53 yards put the Rebels on within the Miners 1-yard line. Davis Jr. concluded the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, scoring 21-14 with three minutes until halftime.
The Miners’ drive following the Davis Jr. touchdown was cut short after an interception by defensive back Cameron Oliver.
With an excellent opportunity to double its lead, the Rebels capitalized with Thomas finding the end zone for his third time of the evening with a five-yard touchdown run, extending the Rebels lead to 28-14 with under two minutes left in the half.
A sack from the Rebel defensive lineman Jalen Dixon ended any scoring hopes in the dying seconds of the first half, and the Rebels would lead by 14 at the intermission.
The Miners came out firing after the halftime break and on its first drive of the second half, finding the back of the end-zone in a nine-play drive that was capped off by an 11-yard touchdown run by Burgess, making the score 28-21.
Deep in the Rebel’s next drive, Maiava threw an interception to senior defensive end Praise Amaewhule to allow the Miners to tie the game.
The Rebel’s defense backed up the offense, forcing a three-and-out, and on the Rebel’s new set of downs, Thomas extended the Rebel’s lead with his fourth touchdown of the game with a 1-yard touchdown following a 46-yard run into the red zone. The defense and Thomas propelled the Rebels to a two-score game, 35-21.
Thomas’s four-touchdown game would tie the school record for most in a single game in the program’s history.
The Miners did not go away quietly in the fourth quarter as they had a quick strike of their own as Hardison found a connection with wide receiver Jeremiah Ballard for a 27-yard touchdown, making the score 35-27 with 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Courtney Reese would make his mark, putting the game out of reach with a 32-yard rushing touchdown to give the Rebels a 42-28 lead late in the fourth quarter.
The Miners could not get back into the game in the final five minutes of the matchup. Pizano capped off the Rebels scoring with a 30-yard field goal to make the final score of 45-28.
UNLV will take on the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at Allegiant Stadium at 2 p.m. Sept. 30 in The Ninth Island showdown for an opportunity to reclaim the Pineapple Trophy.