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Rebels fall to defensive onslaught

In seven seconds, whatever good will UNLV’s football program had built up in the past seven days quickly disappeared.

That’s how long it took for Caleb Herring to throw a pass that was intercepted by Southern Utah senior linebacker Blake Fenn, who ran it back 22 yards for a touchdown to give the Thunderbirds a 16-10 lead early in the third quarter.

The pick-six not only gave Southern Utah, a Football Championship Subdivision program, the lead back, it gave the Thunderbirds momentum for the second half in what resulted in a stunning 41-16 rout Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Most of the second half remained, but the Rebels never recovered. Each of Herring’s three interceptions was returned for a TD, and UNLV quarterbacks were sacked five times by the Southern Utah defense.

Southern Utah coach Ed Lamb believed his team could compete with the Rebels. But even he was shocked at what transpired in front of an announced crowd of 18,102, as the Thunderbirds improved to 3-1.

"I’m surprised we were able to push the final score the way we did," Lamb said of his team, which was the first FCS team to beat the Rebels since Idaho did it in 1994, winning, 48-38. "We had a very down team at halftime. We left a lot of opportunities on the field, and our offense played uncharacteristically poor in the first half.

"I think it’s a testament to our guys that they came out and won the second half physically."

It was still anyone’s game when Fenn changed the momentum. He snagged Herring’s errant throw, quickly broke a couple of attempted tackles and ultimately found himself in the end zone.

"I didn’t do anything special," Fenn said. "I just took my drop into my normal coverage and made the play.

"In a 10-10 game, we know it’s going to be a defensive battle, so we had to step up."

Southern Utah took advantage of three UNLV second-half turnovers and converted them into 20 points.

"I had no idea the game would change that dramatically," said Fenn, who along with Nick Witzmann’s 35-yard second-quarter pick and Erron Vonner’s 74-yard interception return in the fourth quarter gave Southern Utah arguably the biggest win in the program’s 49-year history.

Adding to UNLV’s demise was SUU quarterback Brad Sorensen’s solid second half after a shaky start. He passed for 139 yards in the second half after managing just 39 in the first while being picked off twice.

"I don’t know if it’s the biggest win, but it’s the best," said Sorensen, who had redshirted at Brigham Young in 2009. "I think I was too fired up in the first half. But that interception by Blake to start the second half really got us going. It just shows what a complete team we are."

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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