Updated November 26, 2022 - 8:21 pm
UNLV sophomore safety Johnathan Baldwin had done everything the Rebels asked of him.
He had already come up with two turnovers and scored a defensive touchdown. Earlier in the final drive, his outstretched hand broke up a deep pass down the middle of the field.
But with the Rebels backed up to their 3-yard line and clinging to a lead, Baldwin was called upon to make one more play. On fourth-and-1 with seven seconds remaining, UNR quarterback Nate Cox tried to find receiver Jamaal Bell coming across the field for the winning touchdown.
“We went zero (safeties), man to man,” Baldwin said. “He ran the under. I just tail-piped and got the PBU (pass breakup).”
Baldwin’s play secured UNLV’s 27-22 win Saturday against UNR in the Battle for the Fremont Cannon at Allegiant Stadium. The Rebels’ defense held up, while the offense — led by backup quarterback Harrison Bailey — did just enough to secure UNLV’s first victory against UNR since 2019.
The win snapped UNLV’s losing streak at six games — giving the Rebels their first win since beating New Mexico 31-20 on Sept. 30 — and keeps UNLV’s hopes alive for a bowl berth as a five-win team.
“That was an awesome way to finish, especially for the seniors,” UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo said.
Despite the importance of the game, UNLV got off to a terrible start. The Rebels (5-7, 3-5 Mountain West) went three-and-out on their first three possessions, accumulating just 14 yards.
Conversely, the Wolf Pack (2-10, 0-8) took advantage of two special teams errors, a blocked punt and a long punt return to score two quick field goals before Cox connected with B.J. Casteel for a 75-yard touchdown to give UNR a 13-0 lead.
Some of the Rebels’ problems came from injuries. Starting quarterback Doug Brumfield left the game after the second drive with a back injury, and Arroyo called upon Bailey to try and fill the void.
Instead, UNLV’s defense provided a spark for the offense. UNR’s misdirection toss play on fourth-and-1 near midfield as the first quarter expired resulted in a fumble, and Baldwin recovered the ball and ran it back 55 yards for the Rebels’ first points.
UNLV’s defense forced three turnovers, as Baldwin and junior BJ Harris added interceptions.
Bailey then connected with junior Kyle Williams for a 49-yard touchdown down the left sideline to give UNLV a 14-13 lead.
“The confidence grew as the game went,” said Bailey, who threw for 209 yards and completed 16 of his 27 attempts.
The UNLV offense settled for two field goals after the Williams touchdown. Sixth-year kicker Daniel Gutierrez’s 33-yard make with 1:20remaining in the second quarter was the 54th of his career, which set the program record for most made field goals.
Bailey and the Rebels landed what seemed like the final blow with 6:45 remaining. The sophomore lofted a jump-ball for 6-foot-4-inch fifth-year receiver Nick Williams, who wrestled the ball away from several UNR defenders for a 30-yard score.
However, a quick Wolf Pack touchdown and a three-and-out by the Rebels gave UNR the ball back with 2:05 left in the game.
The Wolf Pack marched back down the field down to the 5-yard line, and came close to scoring after Cox’s deflected pass was almost caught in the back of the end zone by UNR tight end Cameron Zeidler.
But Baldwin’s play on fourth down secured the win and the Fremont Cannon for UNLV.
“That locker room is on fire right now,” Arroyo said. “Not literally, but it’s an awesome place to be.”