Updated October 1, 2022 - 8:18 am
In Marcus Arroyo’s first three seasons as the UNLV football coach, his teams were 0-8 in one-score games.
After trailing 17-0 in the first half Friday against New Mexico, the Rebels took a 24-17 lead less than a minute into the fourth quarter on a 3-yard touchdown run from Aidan Robbins.
With roughly a quarter to play, there was plenty of time for the Rebels’ struggles in close games to be felt again.
Instead, the Rebels held off the scrappy Lobos for a 31-20 victory at Allegiant Stadium to improve to 4-1 for the first time since 2003 and move to 2-0 in the Mountain West for only the second time since the league was formed in 1999.
“It’s such a huge deal for this group,” Arroyo said. “It’s a character-building win. It was ugly, there were a lot of things against us early on, but we rallied and played well in the second half.”
Robbins’ score was part of a stretch of 24 unanswered points from UNLV to take the lead. After allowing a 36-yard New Mexico field goal on the ensuing possession, UNLV stopped the Lobos on their final four drives of the fourth quarter.
Cameron Oliver sealed the game for the Rebels with an interception he returned for a 12-yard touchdown with 28 seconds left.
“Being in those situations before, we know what we have to do to execute,” sophomore quarterback Doug Brumfield said of being in tight games. “We know what we need to do, we know what we need to execute and how to adjust and expect from the other team.”
Early on, the game didn’t appear it would be much of a contest, as the Lobos (2-3, 0-2) got a pair of rushing touchdowns from quarterback Miles Kendrick in the first quarter.
Arroyo said he was impressed with how the Rebels handled early adversity and showed resiliency down the stretch.
Senior defensive lineman Adam Plant Jr. said: “We know who we are as a team. That’s not our best football. We know what we had to do to capitalize on both ends. We knew in the second half we had to come out and play UNLV football.”
The Rebels struck for their first touchdown midway through the third quarter when Brumfield scrambled for a 6-yard score. He then connected with Michigan State transfer receiver Ricky White on a fade route on the two-point conversion to tie New Mexico at 17.
“We didn’t let anybody take us out of our game, and we came out and played our style of ball,” Brumfield said. “We played fast and just executed. We did what we needed to do in the second half.”
Brumfield completed 24 of 33 passes for 233 yards. The Rebels were without starting receivers Jeff Weimer and Kyle Williams because of apparent shoulder and leg injuries, respectively.
Junior college transfer Senika McKie led the Rebels with 72 receiving yards on five catches, and sophomore Kalvin Souders recorded his first four collegiate receptions for 57 yards.
The Rebels’ defense held the Lobos to 2-for-11 on third-down conversions.
“We’ve done a good job on third and fourth down in those situations, and we continue to do so,” Arroyo said. “There’s definitely a feeling that our defense is willing to step up.”
The Rebels next go on the road to face San Jose State (2-1, 0-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday.