Three takeaways from the UNLV football team’s 31-23 victory over Hawaii on Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium:
1. The Rebels responded every time they needed to.
Hawaii took its only lead early in the third quarter, going ahead 13-7. UNLV’s offense had stalled since scoring a touchdown on its first drive, but this time the Rebels quickly advanced to near midfield. Then quarterback Johnny Stanton hit Brandon Presley on a slant pattern that the wide receiver took 52 yards for the score.
“It was huge,” Presley said. “We were looking for a spark, and I was excited to give it to them.”
With UNLV ahead 21-13 with 1:40 remaining in the third, the Rebels got the break of a Hawaii penalty that moved the kickoff to the 50-yard line. The Rebels executed a perfect onside kick that set up a touchdown and two-possession lead that changed the game’s tone.
Then when the Rainbow Warriors cut UNLV’s lead to 28-20 with 11:46 left, the Rebels went on a 14-play, 63-yard drive that took 6:45 off the clock. Evan Pantels made a 32-yard field goal into the wind for a 31-20 lead with 4:53 remaining.
And, finally, UNLV’s defense came through twice. It first forced a Hawaii field goal after the Warriors reached first-and-10 at the 10. And then the defense forced an incomplete pass on the final play to secure the victory.
UNLV coach Tony Sanchez called out the defense two weeks ago, and the unit responded by allowing a total of 39 points over the past two games.
“I think it pissed the defense off,” Sanchez said. “That’s part of our job is to push everybody’s button. Let me tell you, it got my buttons pushed, too.”
2. Stanton should be the choice moving forward.
He is playing like a senior who knows how to make the necessary plays, completing 18 of 26 passes for 244 yards against the Warriors. Armani Rogers is the quarterback of the future, but he too often locks on his first target without scanning the field — normal for a redshirt freshman — and his accuracy hasn’t been there.
The Rebels are in a fight for a bowl, and Stanton’s play has helped put them there.
“There’s no better definition of character than this guy right here,” Sanchez said of Stanton. “He came into this year not being the guy, and he stayed positive.”
3. A bowl bid is quite realistic.
As Sanchez mentioned after the game, Brigham Young brings in a talented team on Friday that hasn’t played up to its capability, so the Cougars figure to be motivated. But that’s also a game the Rebels should have every chance to win, along with road games against New Mexico and UNR.
UNLV needs to win two of those three games. If the Rebels execute the way they did against Hawaii in winning the Island Showdown Trophy that’s in the shape of a pineapple and the week before in a 26-16 victory at Fresno State, they will put themselves in position to play for a postseason berth.
“We’re not where we want to be,” Sanchez said. “We wish we had a couple of more (victories) on the board and felt a little bit better about it and celebrating a bowl game instead of a pineapple.”