Turnovers plague short-handed UNLV football in blowout loss to Air Force

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Center Leif Fautanu about to snap the ball for the Rebels during their 42-7 defeat to Air Force Saturday night. Photo by Paxtyn Graham.

UNLV football was already shorthanded entering its Saturday night game against Air Force. 

Without starting quarterback Doug Brumfield and two starting wide receivers, the Rebels had a thin margin of error against a Falcons team that had notoriously given the Rebels trouble.

Committing four turnovers and only scoring once did not do UNLV any favors.

The Rebels lost 42-7 to the Falcons at Allegiant Stadium in their Homecoming Game for their second straight defeat.

The Falcons took control of UNLV’s mistakes as they ran for a total of 406 rushing yards while attempting just three passes. Their running back, Brad Roberts, had 144 of those yards and added four rushing touchdowns.

“I’m disappointed in the way we took care of the ball offensively and we put ourselves behind,” head coach Marcus Arroyo said. “That’s the bottom line. We started the game with the ball and didn’t take care of it.”

Their first drive was going well, a nine-play, 60-yard drive until their quarterback Cameron Friel changed the momentum by fumbling and turning over the ball. 

Friel filled in for Brumfield, who Arroyo said after the game is in concussion protocol after he left with an injury against San Jose State last week.

Shortly after the fumble, the Falcons broke off a 60-yard touchdown run from running back John Lee Eldridge III.

As the Falcons kicked off back to the Rebels, running back Courtney Reese would fumble on the kick return and give the Falcons an excellent field position.

The Falcons capitalized on the Rebels’ mistake with a 5-yard touchdown run by Roberts. At the end of the first quarter, UNLV found themselves down 14-0.

Air Force began to take control with their ground game, as it did not attempt a single pass.

The second quarter was more of the same. On UNLV’s third drive of the game, Friel was strip-sacked which led to another 3-yard touchdown run for the Falcons by Roberts. This was UNLV’s third fumble of the game.

Despite all of the mistakes, UNLV still made an attempt to get back into the game. A 26-yard run by Reese wasn’t only redemption after his earlier fumble, but a spark for the offense. 

On that same drive, Friel connected with Michigan State transfer wide receiver Ricky White on a 31-yard pass for a touchdown.

Entering halftime, the Falcons had attempted just two passes, compared to their 37 rushing attempts. 

UNLV had no answer for the Falcons’ rushing attack in the first half. UNLV gave up a total of 217 rushing yards, for an average of 5.9 yards per carry.

Coming out of halftime, the Falcons ran the ball 11 times for a total of 75 yards and topped it off with a 3-yard touchdown run by Roberts.

Friel would come out for UNLV’s first drive of the second half looking to bounce back. However, Friel was intercepted, which led to another Air Force touchdown.

Friel completed 8 of 10 passes for 108 passing yards with a touchdown, an interception, and one lost fumble.

Junior running back Aidan Robbins finished with just eight carries and 30 rushing yards. Robbins also added one reception for 22 receiving yards before he left in the first half due to an injury. Arroyo said Robbins suffered a knee injury but did not have an official diagnosis

Courtney Reese filled in for Robbins and finished with 37 rushing yards gained on just five carries.

White caught four passes for a total of 58 receiving yards. 31 of those 58 yards came from that touchdown bomb by Friel.

Fifth-year senior linebacker Austin Ajiake exploded for 20 total tackles and defensive lineman Darius Johnson totaled a season-high 16 tackles. Freshman defensive lineman Ryan Keeler made his first start for an injured Adam Plant Jr. and finished with seven total tackles as well as one sack.

“They’re gonna be exactly where they’re supposed to be. So it’s tough on the defense because we got to play a perfect game as well,” Ajiake said. “They do what they do well, they run their offense well, and it’s tough on the defense.”

Up next, the Rebels (4-3, 2-2 Mountain West) travel to South Bend, Indiana, where they’ll look to bounce back against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (3-3) Saturday at 11:30 a.m. in their final non-conference game. After that UNLV will have a bye week.

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