Big finish for UNLV


POSTED: Sunday, September 20, 2009

HENDERSON, Nev. » For UNLV, it was an all-too-familiar scenario.

Thanks to a 15-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Omar Clayton to sophomore wide receiver Phillip Payne, the Rebels had rallied for a 34-33 lead with just 36 seconds remaining last night.

It marked the fifth time in the past 10 games the Rebels (2-1) held a lead of two points or less with less than 3 minutes remaining in the game. UNLV had dropped the previous four, including a 23-21 setback to Oregon State a week earlier on a Justin Kahut 33-yard field goal with just 7 seconds to go.

So when All-Mountain West Conference wide receiver Ryan Wolfe, playing deep safety, helped bat down Greg Alexander's final pass of the game in the end zone, there was a giant sigh of relief from Rebels fans at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Finally UNLV had found a way to hold on to win a close game in crunch time.

“;One of our goals coming in tonight was to finish,”; UNLV coach Mike Sanford said. “;We made the plays you have to make at the end to win. That is a very positive step for us. I think we gained a lot of confidence tonight and took a huge step forward.”;

You have to go all the way back to 1991 for the last time UNLV won a one-point game in regulation.

“;If you could hear our locker room, our celebration just tells it all,”; said Wolfe, who caught nine passes for 130 yards. “;We just laid it all on the line today.

“;I think we learned from those little mistakes in the close games in the past years. This is a new team. We're ready to move on.”;

“;This is a great motivator for this team,”; added Clayton, who overcame a shaky first half (two interceptions) to complete 28 of 43 passes for 340 yards and three touchdowns. “;Having the season that we want to have there are going to be close games, and we have to be able to take the ball down and score to take the lead, and we are going to have to get (defensive) stops at the end of the game. And it was great to do that tonight, especially after last week, and get a win.”;

No Rebel had a bigger smile on his face than junior defensive end Malo Taumua, an Aiea grad.

This was the third time Taumua faced his home-state team. Not only had he lost the first two meetings in 2006 and 2007, he also was injured in both.

“;I tore my meniscus in 2006 and I sprained my AC joint against them in 2007,”; Taumua said. “;This time I'm healthy and we got a win.”;

Hawaii drove to midfield in the final 36 seconds, but couldn't quite get close enough for a game-winning field-goal try.

“;When we went out there for that last series, I was like, 'OK, this can't happen again,' “; Taumua said. “;We have to step up right now and make a play and win the game. And that is what we did. It felt so good. When I got to the locker room, I said, 'It's about time.' “;