UNLV already could be bowl eligible.
A dropped pass helped do in the Rebels in their 34-24 loss to San Jose State two weeks ago.
Last weekend, the Rebels had several key plays go against them and ended a 28-24 defeat to Utah State with the football at the Aggies’ 16-yard line.
They had the past week off to heal, move forward and prepare for Thursday’s 6:30 p.m. PST game at Air Force.
They also have shown a resiliency all season, rallying to win four times.
“I think this is a mentally tough football team,” coach Bobby Hauck said. “There’s no arguing that. I think they’ve been cultivated to be that. And the other thing is they have the ability to make some plays. I’m not so sure that was always the case.”
UNLV needs to win one of its final two games to make the postseason for the first time since 2000. If the Rebels don’t win at Air Force, their final shot is Nov. 30 at home against San Diego State.
“We for sure need to get one of them, and why procrastinate?” Hauck asked. “We need to give a maximum effort this coming week and get that done against Air Force.”
For a program that has struggled for many years, it’s a surprisingly somewhat familiar situation.
Since 1994, the Rebels have been in a similar position five times this late in the season. This is how they fared:
Just like this year’s team, UNLV began 5-3. Then after a 28-27 loss at Southwestern Louisiana, UNLV came home at 5-4 to play UNR on Nov. 19 for a berth in the Las Vegas Bowl. In what might be the most dramatic game in the history of the heated rivalry, UNLV won 32-27 on DeJohn Branch’s 4-yard touchdown run with 58 seconds left.
After getting thrashed 42-3 by No. 11 Kansas State in the regular-season finale, the Rebels routed Central Michigan 52-24 in the bowl to finish 7-5.
A 38-16 loss at Utah on Nov. 4 dropped UNLV to 4-5 and forced the Rebels to win their final three games if they were to make the postseason. All three went right down to the end.
First up was a home game against New Mexico, and it was an offensive struggle for the Rebels. UNLV’s points until its final drive came on a field goal, safety and punt return for a touchdown. The day seemed lost when New Mexico scored a TD with 3:01 left to take a 14-11 lead. But then the Rebels drove 69 yards to win 18-14 on Jason Thomas’ 2-yard touchdown pass to Nate Turner with 18 seconds remaining.
Two weeks later, following a bye, it appeared San Diego State would be the team driving for the winning score. The game was 24-24 in the fourth quarter when the host Aztecs reached UNLV’s 37-yard line. Rebels cornerback Amar Brisco then stepped in front of a sideline pass and raced 72 yards for a touchdown with 52 seconds left to give UNLV a 31-24 victory.
That left a Dec. 2 trip to Hawaii as the only barrier to a bowl bid. Thomas’ 1-yard scoring pass to Turner with 6:25 remaining gave the Rebels a 34-26 lead. UNLV appeared to have victory in hand after getting back the ball, but Thomas fumbled, and Hawaii’s Nate Jackson returned it 30 yards to the 3. Hawaii capitalized by scoring a touchdown with 1:58 remaining, but UNLV prevailed 34-32 when Warriors quarterback Timmy Chang’s 2-point conversion pass fell incomplete.
The Las Vegas Bowl lacked the drama of those three games, with UNLV routing Arkansas 31-14 to finish 8-5.
When UNLV jumped out to a 4-1 start that included a 23-5 victory at Nov. 14 Wisconsin, the question didn’t seem to be if the Rebels would make a bowl, but which one. But they lost three close games at home.
Brigham Young scored a touchdown with 29 seconds left to force overtime in an Oct. 25 game, then won 27-20 with a TD pass in the extra session. In a game in which both offenses went on vacation, San Diego State emerged with a 7-0 victory on Nov. 8. On Nov. 22, Colorado State reached the end zone with 53 seconds remaining to beat the Rebels 24-23.
UNLV finished 6-6, which at the time did not qualify for a bowl berth because a winning record was needed.
The Rebels began 3-1, including a 23-20 overtime victory at No. 15 Arizona State, then suffered through an October in which they lost in the final minutes at Colorado State, to Air Force and at No. 18 BYU. But they defeated New Mexico and Wyoming in back-to-back November home games to become 5-6.
All that remained was a Nov. 22 trip to San Diego State, a team that was 1-10 and had fired coach Chuck Long the morning of the game. The tone was set early, however, when UNLV leading rusher Frank Summers was injured on the third play. Without him, the Rebels’ chances dimmed. They trailed 28-21 before the Aztecs scored two touchdowns in the final 4:16, including an 82-yard interception return, to win 42-21.
UNLV’s season ended 5-7.
UNLV had a chance to make the postseason well into November, but in reality, the Rebels were in trouble after a 30-27 loss at Wyoming on Sept. 26 dropped them to 2-2. That created an uphill struggle against a demanding schedule that included three ranked opponents.
They Rebels were 4-6 by the time they took the field Nov. 14 at snowy Air Force. UNLV never seemed to have a chance, losing 45-17 to fall out of bowl contention. Coach Mike Sanford was fired the following day. The Rebels finished the season with a 28-24 home victory over San Diego State to end 5-7.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.