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Rebels’ defense steps up late to preserve victory

The ball was sailing toward the end zone and the waiting hands of David Leonard, and it appeared Wyoming would rally to catch UNLV in the fourth quarter Thursday.

But Daryl Forte refused to accept such a fate. The Rebels junior free safety closed on Chris Stutzriem’s pass and deflected it into the hands of teammate Quinton Porter.

Just like that, the Rebels had turned potential misfortune, something of a trademark for them much of this season, into newfound triumph.

The play by Forte and Porter with 4:52 remaining preserved UNLV’s 22-14 win at Sam Boyd Stadium and kept alive the team’s hope for postseason play.

The Rebels (5-6, 2-5 Mountain West) need to win at San Diego State on Nov. 22 and hope Colorado State loses one of its final two games and that Utah beats Brigham Young.

That might be a lot to ask, but nobody was thinking that after the win.

“It feels great,” said linebacker Rusty Worthen, who had a fourth-quarter interception that led to UNLV’s final touchdown with 12:15 remaining. “When the defense does good, the offense does good.”

The Rebels surrendered 294 yards Thursday, the fewest they have allowed since Utah State gained 234 in the 2007 season opener.

UNLV pressured fourth-string quarterback Stutzriem into mistakes, held explosive Cowboys tailback Devin Moore under 100 yards (he finished with 91) and came up with big plays when it had to.

“We knew it would be on us to win the game,” said Porter, who picked off his second pass of the season to seal the win. “We’ve been going hard in practice every day, and we’re eliminating the little mistakes that were costing us earlier this year.”

Forte said the Rebels defensive players are more comfortable with their assignments and trust one another, which makes it easier to play.

“We’ve got that never-let-down attitude now,” he said. “We watch out for each other, and now we’re making the big plays.”

UNLV coach Mike Sanford said the defense is collectively coming through.

“They’re making plays as a group,” he said. “We had tipped balls that other guys intercepted. That’s when you’re playing good team defense.”

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