UNLV Football controls its destiny with win against Air Force

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Jayden Maiava throws the ball downfield against Air Force. Maiava completed 15 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns against Air Force. Photo courtesy of UNLV Athletics.

UNLV Football defeated the Air Force Falcons in a thrilling road game 31-27 to improve its record to (9-2,6-1) on Nov. 18.

The win puts UNLV in control to advance and host the Mountain West Championship as the No. 1 seed if they beat San Jose State on Nov. 25.

The Rebels used the thin air of Colorado Springs to its advantage, with Jayden Maiava completing 15-of-29 for 339 yards and two touchdowns.

Ricky White was once again Maiava’s favorite target, catching eight passes for 169 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons.

The Rebels’ punter, Marshall Nichols, was a difference maker in the field position battle, pinning the Falcons within the 20-yard line three times in the game and completing one pass on a fake punt for 12 yards to move the chains.

In his first pass attempt of the game, Maiava tossed a 78-yard touchdown to White to silence the Falcons’ fans and take a 7-0 lead.

The Maiava-White connection continued in the second drive with a 22-yard connection to put White at 100 yards receiving early in the first quarter. The drive was cut short by Air Force creating a turnover, with Trey Taylor picking off an underthrown pass by Maiava. 

The Air Force offense struggled early, unable to move the chains until just over three minutes remaining in the first quarter. However, the Falcons offense picked up in the backend of the quarter with John Lee Ethridge III breaking out a 55-yard touchdown run to even the game at 7-7 with under a minute remaining.

The momentum continued for the Falcons in the second half with a six-play touchdown drive capped off by a quarterback sneak into the endzone by Jensen Jones to put Air Force up 14-7 with 11:37 remaining in the half. 

Air Force continued to score in the second quarter, scoring a 27-yard field goal on its next drive to make the score 17-7.

Maiava threw another interception with 6:42 remaining in the half, and Air Force scored a touchdown three plays later to make the score 24-7.

The Rebels bounced back from the Falcons’ 24-point scoring run with an eight-play touchdown drive that ended with a Vincent Davis Jr. 12-yard touchdown run, cutting the deficit to 24-14.

The Falcons drove down the field in the closing two minutes of the first half, scoring a 42-yard field goal in the final play of the half to make the score 27-14.

UNLV entered the second half with an extra pep in their step, with Maiava finding Kaleo Ballungay for an 84-yard completion on the first play of the half. Lester cashed in a 1-yard rushing touchdown on the following play to make it a one-possession game, 27-21.

The Rebels’ comeback was full of a roller coaster of emotions, with two nullified touchdowns late in the third quarter due to penalties in the same drive.

The Rebels pushed through the adversity of the two penalties, with Maiava finding Ballungaya in the end zone to take the lead 28-27 with 2:55 remaining in the quarter.

The Rebels got the ball back with just over one minute left in the third quarter, and a drive that was on the verge of being a three-and-out was extended by a booth review that determined the tackle on third down Bo Richter was a targeting. It resulted in a UNLV new set of downs.

The Rebels’ drive continued into the fourth quarter, and it was on the verge of stalling again with the Rebels near midfield with a 4th & 11. 

On the fourth down, Nichols threw the ball between triple coverage to Kris Williams to convert the first down and continue the drive.

The drive ended with Jose Pizano knocking down a 39-yard field goal to make the score 31-27.

The Rebels’ defense created its first turnover of the game on a mishandled carry by Dylan Carson, resulting in Tatum Martinson recovering the ball for UNLV near midfield.

The Rebels drive following the fumble recovery was a three-and-out. However, it was pivotal for the field position battle because Nichols pinned the Falcons to its 2-yard line with 7:09 remaining in regulation.

The Rebels sealed the win, stopping the Falcons deep in the red zone with a goal-line stand on 4th & goal to win the game 31-27.

Up Next

The Rebels will play against San Jose State for its final regular season game at noon on Nov. 25. If the Rebels win, they will make and host the Mountain West Championship.

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