Rebels get grip on upset

TEMPE, Ariz. — Mike Sanford has experienced three painful two-victory seasons in a row as UNLV’s coach.

After all the disappointments, now one glorious night. One shocking victory.

One major statement.

The Rebels didn’t flinch when trailing No. 15 Arizona State by 10 in the fourth quarter Saturday. Instead, they responded, forcing overtime, and then won 23-20 when Malo Taumua blocked Thomas Weber’s 35-yard field-goal attempt.

“This is the biggest win of my life,” Sanford said, his voice cracking.

And one of the biggest in UNLV football history.

UNLV players poured onto the Sun Devil Stadium field, mobbing each other after so few had given them a chance as 23-point underdogs.

Kicker Kyle Watson had given the Rebels (2-1) the lead in overtime with a 20-yard field goal.

“You have to give credit to the team, and they kept believing, and I’m very proud of them,” Sanford said.

Sanford and his team won’t have to learn from a loss. They can take momentum into next Saturday’s home game against Iowa State.

The coach has been looking for the program-turning victory, and maybe he’s found it.

“We had a great win against Utah last year, and we didn’t build on that,” Sanford said.

So that will be the challenge, but Saturday night wasn’t about that. It was about one of the more remarkable victories UNLV ever has enjoyed.

This was UNLV’s first victory over a ranked team since winning at No. 14 Wisconsin 23-5 five years ago to the day. Of the Rebels’ five victories over ranked teams, four have occurred on the road.

If they were to get any kind of victory against Arizona State (2-1), it appeared it would be the moral kind, especially while trailing by 10 points in the fourth quarter.

UNLV mounted a tremendous drive, going 87 yards in 18 plays, taking 9:16 off the clock. The Rebels failed to punch it in from Arizona State’s 1-yard line, but Watson’s 20-yard field goal with 6:28 left brought them to within a possession at 20-13.

That possession occurred on UNLV’s next drive. The Rebels went 74 yards on 10 plays, coming up big whenever they needed to.

They faced a fourth-and-4 at the Sun Devils 18, but quarterback Omar Clayton threw a 9-yard comeback pass to wide receiver Phillip Payne to convert. Two plays later, Payne — a freshman from Western High School — made a tremendous one-handed catch in the end zone with 18 seconds left to send the game into overtime. It was his second touchdown grab.

“Phillip Payne made two unbelievable plays,” Sanford said of that tying drive. “But a lot of guys made plays.”

Tailback Frank Summers rushed for 98 yards on 16 carries after halftime. He finished with 103 yards on 22 rushes.

Clayton also raised his level of play, completing 12 of 21 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown in the second half. He finished 19-for-31 for 191 yards and two TDs.

UNLV’s defense held Arizona State to 125 yards in the second half, including 36 in the fourth quarter. The Sun Devils had the ball for 3:43 in the fourth.

“We played all four quarters and overtime and didn’t have penalties and mental mistakes,” Summers said, “and when we had the chance to win the game, we took advantage of it.”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at or 702-387-2914.

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