Nevada fell to UNLV, 27-22, Saturday night at Mackay Stadium but the Rebels did not beat the Wolf Pack as much as the Pack beat itself.
Nevada committed 13 penalties for 105 yards, constantly bringing up third-and-long situations, resulting in the Wolf Pack converting just two of 15 third downs.
“In my mind, the story of this game is pretty simple, 13 penalties I believe it was for over 100 yards, is unacceptable,” Nevada coach Brian Polian said. “It’s unacceptable by the coaches, including me, and it’s unacceptable by the players.”
Constantly left in first-and-15 and first-and-20 situations, the Wolf Pack was forced to go to the air. Cody Fajardo completed 24-of-40 pass attempts for 357 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The Wolf Pack offense mustered only 18 first downs to the Rebels’ 29.
“I’m sick to my stomach that my name, as far as the Wolf Pack quarterback, is the one that lost The Cannon,” Fajardo said. “It’s going to be a tough night for me, tough weekend.”
Failing to score the entire second half and trailing 27-16, Fajardo engineered an eight-play, 72-yard drive, resulting in a 9-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Bradley, which closed the gap to 27-22 with 3:20 left.
Bradley caught four passes for 66 yards and the score.
The Rebels trotted their hands team onto the field for the kickoff but Nevada sent the kick deep. The kickoff team pinned the Rebels deep in their own territory but was hit with two late-hit penalties, which moved UNLV to its own 47.
“It’s incredibly frustrating that that would happen,” Polian said.
The Nevada defense bowed its neck after the costly personal fouls however and forced a punt allowing the Wolf Pack to take over its own 12-yard line with 2:15 left and one timeout. With the aid of a late-hit call on Fajardo, Nevada moved the ball to its own 34-yard line but once again put itself behind the chains with a false start.
Facing a second-and-15, Nevada ate up 11 yards on two plays, bringing up a fourth-and-4 from its own 40. Fajardo’s pass to Jerico Richardson fell to the turf and Nevada lost the Freemont Cannon for the first time since 2004.
“They did a great job. We made it manageable, (it was) just a bad read by me,” Fajardo said.
The honeymoon period may be over for Polian in his first year at the helm, as the Wolf Pack (3-5, 2-3 in the Mountain West Conference) must win three of its final four games to become bowl eligible. A road trip to nationally-ranked Fresno State next week is amongst the remaining four games as well as a home date with BYU Nov. 30. UNLV improved to 5-3, 3-1 in the MWC with the win.
“Big win for us, it’s exciting…,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said. “They’re well coached, and they make you earn everything you get. I’m proud of our guys, ecstatic we came out on top.”
Despite converting on just one of nine third downs in the first half, and the Rebels possessing the ball in Wolf Pack territory six of eight drives, Nevada led 16-14 going into the locker room.
After the two teams traded opening-drive punts, Brent Zuzo connected on a 40-yard field goal to put Nevada up 3-0. The drive was aided by a 43-yard catch and run from Brandon Wimberly, extending his nation-leading streak of games with a reception to 48.
Wimberly caught four passes for 89 yards.
On Nevada’s next drive, Fajardo threw his first interception in 193 pass attempts, to the Rebels’ Frank Crawford. UNLV took over at the Nevada 30 but was left off the scoreboard when running back Shaquille Murray-Lawrence fumbled on the following play. Jack Renoso jumped on the loose ball and gave the ball back to the Pack.
Fajardo led a 14-play, 63-yard, drive following the turnover flurry that resulted in another Zuzo field goal, this from 22 yards out.
Richy Turner ran unaccounted for through the UNLV secondary two drives later and hauled in a 61-yard touchdown to put Nevada up 13-7.
Turner led the Nevada receivers with eight receptions for 149 yards and the long score.
The Rebels took lead four minutes before on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Caleb Herring to Maika Mataele and took the lead back after the Turner bomb on a 44-yard touchdown pass from Herring to Devante Davis the following drive.
Davis caused a night-long headache for the Nevada secondary, snatching eight passes for 121 yards and two scores.
When the Wolf Pack returned to its locker room after the game, The Cannon had already been removed.
Losers of three straight, Nevada will attempt to end its skid at Fresno State Saturday on ESPN. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.