UNLV almost pulled off its own dramatic victory against Air Force.
The Rebels trailed by 20 points in the third quarter and charged back to make it a one-possession game before a last-ditch drive failed.
That allowed Air Force to hang on to win 41-35 on Friday night at Sam Boyd Stadium.
“What I told those guys in the locker room right now, they fought their tail off for four quarters,” UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said. “They were down big and got themselves back in it and gave themselves a chance to win at the very end. But the bottom line is the execution wasn’t there.”
UNLV (2-5, 0-3 Mountain West) next plays at San Jose State on Oct. 27. The Rebels’ fading bowl chances took a major hit with what has now become a four-game losing streak.
They at least made this game close after losing by a combined 109-42 the past two weeks to New Mexico and Utah State. Both of those games were effectively over by halftime.
This one appeared done with 5:45 left in the third quarter when Air Force (3-4, 1-3) took a 41-21 lead.
That wasn’t the case, however. UNLV, which a year ago blew a 27-0 lead at Air Force in a 34-30 loss, came back to make it a six-point game. UNLV made one last effort to win, but on fourth-and-8 from the Falcons’ 30-yard line, quarterback Max Gilliam’s pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and fell incomplete.
Air Force then ran out the remaining 1:44.
This was the best of Gilliam’s three starts. He completed 26 of 38 passes for 261 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
“I did all right,” Gilliam said. “I would’ve liked to have finished. It means a lot to me and everyone else, so we’re going to try and do that next week.”
UNLV’s Lexington Thomas rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns, including a 74-yard TD in the second quarter. He’s 1 yard behind second-place Mike Thomas’ 3,149 yards on the career list and one touchdown behind Thomas’ record 37 set in 1973 and 1974.
The Rebels’ offense couldn’t make up for the defensive problems.
Air Force rushed for 355 yards, with quarterback Isaiah Sanders producing 173 yards and three TDs. He also completed 9 of 11 passes for 217 yards and a touchdown.
“Every game we’ve played so far, they’ve thrown the ball on us,” UNLV cornerback Jericho Flowers said. “We haven’t been competing for the 50-50 balls. We came into this game knowing they were going to throw the ball more than they usually do. When you play lazy, stuff like that happens.”