Updated October 22, 2021 - 1:53 am
UNLV football coach Marcus Arroyo didn’t hide his disappointment after a 27-20 loss to San Jose State on Thursday night at Allegiant Stadium.
For the fifth time this season, the Rebels had an opportunity to tie or win a game in the fourth quarter or overtime.
For the fifth time, they couldn’t quite capitalize.
“Our guys are bummed out about not making those plays every down. I know we are. We’re crushed, to be candid,” Arroyo said. “… We’ve got to make sure that we go back and look at exactly how to finish a game.”
The Rebels (0-7, 0-3 Mountain West) failed to finish. Yet again. This time squandering a 17-3 lead to the defending Mountain West champions.
San Jose State (4-4, 2-2) gifted UNLV two first-half touchdowns by fumbling twice deep in its own territory, but the Rebels couldn’t protect that lead and were outscored by 14 in the fourth quarter.
Senior running back Charles Williams fumbled in the final minute of the first half, allowing San Jose State to cover 33 yards in two plays en route to a touchdown with two seconds left before halftime. The Spartans also blocked senior kicker Daniel Gutierrez’s go-ahead field-goal attempt early in the fourth quarter and covered 78 yards in five plays to score the game-winning touchdown.
“It’s frustrating, losing these close games,” senior linebacker Austin Ajiake said. “But at the end of the day, we’ve got to find a way to finish.”
UNLV played well enough to win its first game during Arroyo’s tenure. For most of the 60 minutes, anyway. Freshman quarterback Cameron Friel continues to improve and completed 20 of 28 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown to junior wide receiver Steve Jenkins. Ajiake and the defense forced two turnovers via downs to set up the Rebels with prime field position.
But Williams’ fumble proved crucial.
As did the blocked kick that Arroyo opted to attempt despite facing a fourth-and-1 on San Jose State’s 22-yard line with 9:34 to play.
“Uncharacteristic of Charles. That’s our breadwinner,” said Arroyo, explaining he had hoped Williams could advance the ball enough for the Rebels to safely attempt some passes down the field.
“It was in his range there,” Arroyo said of the blocked field goal, explaining the decision to kick it instead of going for the first down.
A make would have broken a 20-20 tie, but the miss preceded a brilliant Spartans drive that junior quarterback Nick Nash capped with a 15-yard scoring scamper. Nash passed for 213 yards and ran for 121.
Even so, the Rebels had a chance to tie the game with 7:06 to play.
They ran 19 plays and marched 72 yards. Friel converted four third-and-longs and a fourth down.
But UNLV didn’t have enough urgency on its final possession and ran out of time in the red zone. Friel was sacked for the fifth time, by Kyle Harmon, who ran free amid a botched protection scheme to level the freshman on the final play.
UNLV junior offensive lineman Daviyon McDaniel dropped into a demoralizing crouch while his teammates walked off the field, knowing they let another victory slip away.
“Down by seven, that close to the (end) zone, I feel like we had a great shot,” Ajiake said. “It’s always like three or four plays throughout the game that change the way the game goes. You never know when those plays are going to come.”