Greg Sorber / Associated Press
Sunday, Oct. 25, 2009 | 2:30 a.m.
Ryan Greene and Christine Killimayer talk about the night that belonged to UNLV senior receiver Ryan Wolfe, who became the Mountain West's all-time leading pass-catcher as the Rebels prevailed 34-17 at New Mexico. Plus, UNLV's improvement on some recent weaknesses and the challenge lying ahead next weekend in Fort Worth.
- Opponent: TCU
- Date: Oct. 31, 1 p.m.
- Where: Fort Worth, Texas
- TV: Versus (Cox Ch. 67, HD 767)
- Radio: ESPN 1100 AM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It was a melting pot of a win in many ways on Saturday night for the UNLV football team.
But between finally scoring with authority in consistent fashion in the red zone, avoiding turnovers and making momentum-building plays on defense, it was a fourth-quarter reception by senior Ryan Wolfe that ultimately told the story in the Rebels' 34-17 triumph over lowly New Mexico.
After making an awkward, diving grab for a 14-yard gain on third-and-10 inside New Mexico territory, the normally reserved wideout got up, flexed his arms, yelled and put on quite a display.
The Rebels were up by two touchdowns and en route to a relaxing finish.
"I don't know what that was," Wolfe said with a smile. "I guess it was kinda just the emotion and frustration that this team's had just coming out. We've been so close, been in close road games in the past and couldn't get over it, and at the same time we've played teams who were struggling and we didn't do a good enough job of taking advantage of that, so tonight it all came together and we were able to work with it."
The victory improved the Rebels to 3-5 on the season, and snapped not only what seemed like an endless four-game losing streak, but also an even lengthier 20-game skid on the road against Mountain West Conference foes.
A final look at the scoreboard, even if it came against the league's lone winless foe, made a good night great for Wolfe, who stole the show by becoming the MWC's all-time leading receiver. Career grab No. 263 came on a six-yard gain off of a swing pass from Omar Clayton in the second quarter.
He finished the night with 11 catches — giving Wolfe 270 for his career, in case you're counting — for 118 yards and a touchdown.
"Anytime you get to the top of a list, hopefully you'll be there a while so it's something you can look back on after you're done playing," said Wolfe, who broke the previous record of 262 held by San Diego State's J.R. Tolver, set in 2002. "I guess I've got a couple more games to add to it."
If UNLV's offense runs as smooth as it did for the better part of a cool, crisp Saturday evening in Albuquerque, he's got a better-than-good shot at getting that number up to 300.
After taking the opening kickoff, the Rebels' first two offensive possessions involved a total of 20 plays, 140 yards and two touchdowns. Both jaunts were executed in flawless fashion. UNLV seemingly took a 14-0 lead before the homecoming crowd of 24,021 could even get settled in, and finished off the half up 21-3.
New Mexico would close to within seven points in the second half at 24-17, but UNLV's lone punt attempt of the night wound up presenting the Rebels with a gift.
"Our special teams were huge in this game," said UNLV coach Mike Sanford. "We felt like they were gonna be huge in this game."
Other areas in which UNLV came up huge were those in which the Rebels had been suspect of late.
The offense went without a turnover, and scored on five of its six trips into the red zone, with the only empty-handed occasion being in the closing minute, when they called off the dogs and took a knee to drain the clock.
Much of that efficiency came thanks to the steady hand of junior quarterback Omar Clayton, who came into Saturday night's contest with eight touchdown passes and an uncharacteristic nine interceptions to his credit in six starts this season.
He finished the night 20-of-30 for 204 yards and two touchdown passes, while rushing for 50 yards on six carries.
"We didn't have any turnovers — that was a relief," he said after playing his best football since the second half of a 34-33 victory over Hawaii back on Sept. 19. "I was real comfortable, ready to play, and I thought our whole team was ready to go."
As for the highly-criticized defense, it held New Mexico to 287 total yards, recorded four sacks, recovered two fumbles and broke up four Donovan Porterie pass attempts.
To boot, it forced four Lobos punts by allowing New Mexico to convert only five of its 12 third-down attempts, led by senior Jason Beauchamp's nine tackles, three stops for loss, two sacks and one forced fumble.
The unit built off of a promising showing in a home loss to Utah, and now has something even better to build off of as it prepares for its toughest regular season test — next Saturday at No. 8 TCU, which thumped No. 16 BYU in Provo earlier in the evening, 38-7.
"I think that we have started to fight back," said Sanford, who got a break from lingering job security questions in the afterglow of the win. "I think we fought back againt Utah, played the kind of defense we're capable of playing, and then I think we played even better tonight.
"We went out and took care of the things we needed to take care of. We didn't worry about the other team, all the distractions, everything that was going on with their coaching. All that stuff, it's unimportant to us. We needed to take care of business ourselves."