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Comin’ up clutch: UNLV prevails late to edge Hawaii, 34-33

Clayton finds Payne with 32 seconds to play for game-winning score, Rebels improve to 2-1


Justin M. Bowen

The UNLV offense celebrates a Phillip Payne touchdown during the Rebels’ game against Hawaii on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009, at Sam Boyd Stadium. UNLV pulled out a win, 34-33, thanks to Payne’s TD grab with 32 seconds to play.

UNLV vs. Hawaii

Omar Clayton hit Phillip Payne for a 15-yard touchdown pass with 32 seconds left in the game as UNLV beat Hawaii 34-33 Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium.

UNLV vs. Hawaii

UNLV players celebrate their 34-33 defeat of Hawaii. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

Hawaii Postgame

Ryan Greene and Rob Miech break down the circus that was UNLV's 34-33 victory over Hawaii on Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium, take a look at how the win resurrects the Rebels following the heartbreak of a week ago and also take a look ahead to next week's trip to Wyoming.

Next game

  • Opponent: Wyoming
  • Date: Sept. 26, 12 p.m. PST
  • Where: Laramie, Wyo.
  • TV: None
  • Radio: ESPN Radio 1100 AM

While Mike Sanford's personal physician might not recommend making it a regular occurrence, the fifth-year UNLV coach knew that having his team back in a pressure-packed, late-game situation a week after suffering heartbreak in one just like it could be helpful.

"Well, it's not good for my heart or my blood pressure, but other than that, yes," he said. "It was good we were put in that situation and it was good we were successful in that situation."

That situation began with the Rebels taking the ball at their own 33-yard line with 5:16 to play, trailing visiting Hawaii by five points.

It ended with senior receiver Ryan Wolfe making a cameo on defense, breaking up the Warriors' final desperate heave for the end zone from midfield and securing a 34-33 victory Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Oh yeah, in the middle of it was junior quarterback Omar Clayton leading a 14-play, 67-yard drive, with the capper being yet another clutch touchdown grab by sophomore wideout Phillip Payne with just 32 seconds to play.

"People that are successful in the clutch love being in the clutch," Sanford said, recalling one of the messages he sent to his team in the wake of last week's tough-to-swallow 23-21 loss to Oregon State. "Instead of being afraid of it, just look at it as a great opportunity. And our guys did."

In a lot of ways, up until the closing minutes, Saturday's game played out the same way last week's loss did, with UNLV committing a bevy of mistakes, be it in the form of blown scoring opportunities, turnovers or puzzling penalties.

But it was working both ways, too, as neither team allowed itself to take control in the first half, and Hawaii took a 20-14 lead into the locker room.

"Even after that, people were still motivated to win," Clayton said of a first half in which UNLV committed four penalties and threw two interceptions. "There was a lot of football to play, and we weren't losing by a tremendous amount."

UNLV appeared ready to pounce at the start of the second half, executing a 16-play, 67-yard drive that chewed up nearly nine minutes of game clock. It kept the ball out of the hands of Hawaii quarterback Greg Alexander, who carved up the Rebels defense in the first half in prolific fashion, throwing for 341 yards and two touchdowns.

However, the drive ended with a thud — literally — as Kyle Watson's 24-yard field goal attempt banged off of the left upright and gave the Warriors a chance to put a firm grip on the game.

"We went for it on fourth down twice on that drive with a purpose," Sanford said of their two successful conversions. "We needed to rest our defense, we needed to move the ball, we needed to have positive field position, and be put in a situation where we back them up. Regardless of what happened, that was a positive thing to take that hting all the way down there."

The defense forced Hawaii into its lone three-and-out of the entire game on the ensuing possession, but the rest the unit got before that was key, as it was a true, old-fashioned shoot-out from that point on.

The two teams combined in the end for 965 yards of total offense and 51 first downs in front of what was pretty much a neutral crowd of 29,717.

And in the end, UNLV had the better of the two gunslingers when it counted the most.

While Alexander couldn't explode in the second half like he did in the first, Clayton took the spotlight after the intermission, going 19-of-26 for 221 yards and two touchdown tosses. He also had an 11-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.

It was arguably the best half of football he's played in a Rebels uniform, coming right on the heels of one in which he looked uncomfortable at times and threw two uncharacteristic interceptions.

"I think Omar Clayton is almost a microcosm of our entire team in that same regard, in that Omar didn't have a very good first half, but came back in the second half, had a tremendous second half, made a ton of plays and his cool and composure were awesome," Sanford said.

The best of those plays was obviously the 15-yard touchdown strike to Payne, who for the fourth time in 12 career games caught a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter or overtime that either tied the game or gave the Rebels the lead.

Oddly enough, he was found alone on the right side with single coverage applied to him.

He was left alone to victimize cornerback Tank Hopkins, who was as successful as just about anyone else who has tried to defense Payne on the fade route in his young UNLV career.

"I was really surprised that they didn't have a safety (on him, too)," Clayton said. "Most teams in the red zone like to move a safety over to double cover Phil, and they didn't, so I took my opportunity to give Phil a jump ball, and he did what he usually does."

Added Payne: "It's big for us. After last week, everyone was down. You could tell by the interviews everyone was down. We had it at the end, they basically took it away from us. It basically builds the morale up for us."

Sanford, who was soaked in Gatorade during a rowdy celebration in the home locker room, pointed out that the emotional victory over a team that thumped the Rebels in both 2006 and 2007 by a combined score of 91-27 will give his team a much-needed shot of confidence.

It couldn't come at a better time, as the 2-1 Rebels now make back-to-back road trips to Wyoming next Saturday, then up to Reno in two weeks. After that comes consecutive home games against Mountain West Conference heavyweights BYU and Utah.

"This was a great motivator for this team, just because having the kind of season we want to have, there's gonna be close games throughout the season, and we have to be able to take the ball down and score to take the lead, get stops and finish games," Clayton said. "It was great to do it tonight, especially after last week, and get a win."

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  1. Hey Ryan, any word on Rodelin Anthony's status? It looked like he got his bell rung pretty good there on the reverse play on the kickoff return.

    Thank goodness Payne stepped up and showed the ability to be a solid possession receiver. What an amazing game for him! While it is comforting knowing we have Payne to fill Anthony's role, I hope he's doing ok.

  2. Hey kbc, Sanford said afterwards that Rodelin most likely suffered a concussion, and he listed him as 'very doubtful' for next week's game.

    Yeah, Payne was huge, and so were Jerriman Robinson and Michael Johnson late after Anthony got knocked out. They'll be needed again next week.

  3. Thanks Ryan. I want to say thanks for your coverage of UNLV sports. Even though it may seem at times the city is indifferent about the program, your coverage is appreciated.

  4. Very happy for our guys but equally upset with the coaching (or lack thereof). This game should not have been this close. If Sanford calls the offensive plays, he should be ashamed of himself after what I saw towards the end of the first quarter. The Rebels had just capped an impressive scoring (touchdown) drive, then they come right back with an embarrassing 3 and out on the next set of downs. The momentum was ours, we had the ball (1st & 10 on our 20) and HI was on their heels. Hawaii looked tired and the coaches turn around and gift wrap them a 3 and out.

    I could not believe how out of touch the coaching staff was with the events unfolding on the field. These men won in spite of their fearless leaders.

    And by the way, why did Hawaii have a bunch of water mist fans running and we had 0? Please tell me it was a "macho" thing and not that our coaches lacked the foresight to try and keep our Rebels as cool as possible.

    I love my Rebels but feel like they're being handcuffed a little. Wake up coaches!!!!

  5. What was up with Sanford's "handshake"? That looked terrible.

  6. n8tive.... let me tell you where you are right and wrong.

    you are wrong here.The Rebels had just capped an impressive scoring (touchdown) drive, then they come right back with an embarrassing 3 and out on the next set of downs

    he did that becauase his defense couldnt do SH** and he was trying to give them a break by running the ball.

    you are right about the coaching staff sucking this one up. (and i have been on the sanford band wagon since he came here) 3rd down and 10 on the HI 11. the score was 10-7 HI at the time i think. we throw a tough pass into coverage and it gets picked. gave up 3, possibly seven points... i wanna know why we didnt throw the fade to payne with single coverage on the near side of the field.. WTF were they thinking there?

    2nd coaching error i guess you would call it. you are lining up in a 4 front with 3 linebackers on the field against a pass happy team that hasnt ran on ANYONE this year. you give up 477 passing yards and make ZERO adjustmesnts. i have no clue who was saying they were excited about our secondary this year but whoever said that should get the instant axe. they were getting killed in a cover 2 defense i dont understand why you dont go to a nickle package or some kind of cover 3 to help out your safeties. our secondary wwas getting killed and it wasnt really their fault. i kind of understand the philosophy with the 4 front cover 2.... hoping to get pressure,BUT THEY WERENT CLOSE most of the night.... they were getting beat over the middle on short passes. if you run cover 3 your linebacker now gets to sit in the middle there and crack heads when they come in his zone...(anyone here wanna run over the middle when Ronnie Paulo is sitting their about to eat you for lunch ????) i didnt think so and neither would they. coaches have to lose the ego and be able to say .... oh crap, this isnt working lets fix it..... but no one did. they stayed in the same D the whole game... you always here a win is a win, and that is true... give the PLAYERS credit for stepping up big. but the coahces still did a horrible job this week.

  7. i agree with your guys take on the coaching.. err... or lack thereof. oregon state was even worse, they couldnt get the right personnel in and couldnt agree more about the play calling. fun game though, great crowd. very little fights and drama like in the past. go rebels

  8. Ryan Greene,
    What is going on with UNR and UNLV and televising the game? Nevada only has two universities and we can't get the game televised. If I remember, KLAS tried to get the game shown here but UNR blocked them. What can we do to change the childish behavior from these institutions?

  9. Rebels ,you deserved this win. Looked in spots like a Great D1 team,love to see us go after points at the first snap as we do in the wee minutes of the fourth. SPORTS GUY- I thought also we should of been in a nickel the majority of the game, They got thier reasons.? C.jones not bad.
    Our next week's game is in perfect timing with where we are as a team.Hope we keep it up.Congragulations Coach sanford and staff.

  10. good job guys! that was a nice win for the team.

    i agree with Jeff, the handshake was really a low class move. show a little respect to the other coach for a great game.

  11. Rebels are still terrible. Let see if these losers make the post season.

  12. sports stud702, love you brother but you kinda proved my initial point. If the defense is gassed (I agree) you don't come out and run a very predictable 2 runs up the middle then try to complete a tough 3rd down pass. If you have your foot on your opponents throat, crush their windpipe instead of giving them an oxygen mask. The preceding drive was an excellent mix of pass and run and this particular drive was exactly what the Rainbow Worriors needed. It was a complete lack of recognition to what was happening on the field. If it aint broke, don't fix it.

    Having said that I'm @ space 21 and would love to buy you a beer at the next game. Let's go handcuffed Rebs.

  13. It was sooooo obvious that I didn't mention it but you are exactly right about Payne. The Worriors manned up on him all night (in crucial situations) long with no help over the top and Omar ran the "called" run play. Not sure if Omar is handcuffed or didn't recognize the matchup. Either way, there is room to grow?????

  14. Omar and Payne really made a great connection for the winning touchdown.

    Rebels finally didn't let a win slip away..

    The next game in Laramie Wyoming will be a hard fought game at a high altitude

    I sure hope the Wolf Pack Rebel Game in Reno get's televised

  15. Nice to see the team comeing together for the win.Looks as they went back to the basics of why they started to play the game in the first place,to have fun!What i found most disterbing was the lack of the local support in the stands.And this town wants a pro team.they wont even come out and support the Rebs?????

  16. Ryan,
    What's up with the photo slideshow instead of video? Does the mtn not allow y'all to record game footage?

  17. Yes, Jeff, that's exactly the situation. We'll still have video highlights during the week, and check out our videos on The Vegas Sports Scene on Thursday's at 10:30 p.m. on Vegas TV (cox ch. 14). Alex and Christine do an incredible job with that.

    However, since the next two games are not televised, look here the day after the games for full video highlight packages.

  18. a WIN is a WIN - - just look at Oregon State game last week.... i don't think they are denying that they won at our home! So all you haters stay up cuz the Rebels are on the Rise!
    I'm out....

  19. Ryan, will the mtn really not allow us to broadcast the Wyoming game to our own city using our own resources?