Victory over Arizona State ranks among UNLV's best


Even though UNLV must turn its attention to the future, most notably Saturday's home game against Iowa State, the Rebels' 23-20 overtime victory at Arizona State on Saturday night was so stunning, it demands a visit to the past.

The victory rates as among the best in school history. It was just the fifth time UNLV beat a ranked opponent, and four of those wins occurred on the road.

"I think (ASU) was shocked. You could tell when they were walking off the field after the game with their heads down, a very disappointed team,'' Rebels running back Frank Summers said. ''Sometimes, it comes down to heart and desire over talent. We were the hungrier team. I don't know if they were overlooking us to (No. 3 Georgia next week), but I'm sure their fans were."

The Rebels' overall record against ranked teams is 5-20.

For UNLV coach Mike Sanford, the win was perhaps the most important in his career.

"Somehow, our guys just believed they were going to win the game,'' Sanford said. ''We made a significant step. We won a close game when there was a lot on the line against a very good team on the road. To me, that's really big."

Where does this win stand? Using The Associated Press' rankings as the guide, it would be third. The following games list the AP rankings first followed by the coaches' vote:

1. UNLV 45-41 over Nos. 8/8 Brigham Young on Oct. 10, 1981.

BYU entered the game with a 16-game unbeaten streak at home, and quarterback Steve Young passed for 269 yards and a touchdown as the Cougars built a 41-24 lead.

UNLV's Sam King countered by completing 31 of 57 passes for 473 yards and two touchdowns. The most important pass was a 20-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Jim Sandusky that beat the Cougars.

2. UNLV 23-5 over Nos. 14/15 Wisconsin on Sept. 13, 2003.

Safety Jamaal Brimmer played the game of his career in unrelenting rain, returning a fumble 55 yards for a touchdown, intercepting two passes, making two sacks, forcing a fumble and registering 11 tackles. He was named national defensive player of the week by the Football Writers Association of America.

Wisconsin committed five turnovers and lost tailback Anthony Davis in the first quarter to an ankle injury. UNLV also sacked quarterback Jim Sorgi nine times.

"They beat us in every phase," Badgers coach Barry Alvarez said afterward. "They outcoached us, they outplayed us, and that's what can happen in this game if you don't take care of the football."

3. UNLV 23-20 over Nos. 15/13 Arizona State on Saturday.

This was a game the Rebels could have conceded, trailing 20-10 in the fourth quarter. Instead, they put together two lengthy drives, with wide receiver Phillip Payne's one-handed TD catch of an 8-yard pass with 18 seconds left sending the game into overtime.

After Kyle Watson's 20-yard field goal put the Rebels ahead by three points in overtime, UNLV forced ASU to settle for a field-goal attempt. The Rebels' Malo Taumua blocked Thomas Weber's 35-yard attempt, sending UNLV players screaming onto the field.

An emotional Sanford immediately declared it "the biggest win of my life."

4. UNLV 36-33 over Nos. 16/13 Colorado State on Nov. 30, 2002.

UNLV quarterback Jason Thomas was injured and didn't play, and then the Rebels lost tailback Dominique Dorsey, guard Tony Terrell and defensive end Ahmad Briggs during the game.

All seemed lost, except other players stepped up. Backup QB Kurt Nantkes passed for 185 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning 29-yarder to tight end DeJhown Mandley with 46 seconds left. Larry Croom also rushed for 222 yards and a touchdown.

"Nobody would've cared if we came out here and laid down because we're not going to a bowl game," Croom said at the time.

"It wouldn't have been a big deal to some people, but we took it upon ourselves to make it a big deal. We wanted to leave on a good note."

5. UNLV 26-20 over unranked/No. 20 Cal State Fullerton on Nov. 10, 1984.

UNLV handed the Titans their only loss of the season, and the win helped the Rebels claim the Pacific Coast Athletic Association title.

Randall Cunningham passed for 183 yards, and his 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Reggie LaFrance put the Rebels ahead 26-17 and proved to be the difference.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914.