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July 29, 2021

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Hawaii defense gives UNLV credit for pivotal drive

UNLV vs. Hawaii

Sam Morris

Hawaii defensive backs Mana Silva, right, and Tank Hopkins show their displeasure after allowing UNLV to score and pull ahead late in the fourth quarter Saturday. UNLV won 34-33.

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

Hawaii cornerback Tank Hopkins didn’t want to talk about it and teammate Spencer Smith offered only 29 words about UNLV’s game-deciding drive late Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Compared to his fellow Warriors, linebacker Jake Heun delivered a Gettysburg Address-like speech about Hawaii’s 34-33 defeat before a boisterous crowd of 29,717.

“Definitely, the energy was back,” Heun said of the moments that followed his sack of Rebels quarterback Omar Clayton in the game’s final minute. “We just couldn’t get it on the next snap. It happens.

“We’ll break down film, look at this and use it as a learning experience. They’re a great team. It’ll help us a lot in WAC play. We’ll bust our (backsides) back in Honolulu. No way this happens again.”

In a shootout in which both teams missed several stellar opportunities to put points on the board, UNLV (2-1) delivered when it mattered most to hand Hawaii (2-1) its first loss of the season.

With 5 1/2 minutes remaining – after the Warriors had taken a 33-28 advantage but missed a 2-point pass attempt that loomed large – the Rebels took over at their own 33-yard line.

On a third-and-7 from his 36, Clayton completed a 10-yard pass over the middle to receiver Phillip Payne. On a third-and-3, tailback Channing Trotter gained 3 1/2 yards.

As the drive picked up steam, Hawaii had a chance to extinguish it when Clayton threw a pass, again over the middle, to senior receiver Ryan Wolfe.

The ball caromed off Wolfe’s fingertips and glanced off the tips of Smith’s fingers before falling to the ground.

“It just went through my hands,” Smith said.

Three plays and 26 yards later, 53 seconds remained when Heun dashed in untouched from the left side of his line to smack Clayton, who never saw Heun coming but hung onto the ball, for a 9-yard loss.

“I mean, things were looking good when he got that sack,” Smith said. “It just wasn’t enough … I don’t have much to say right now.”

Heun, a 6-foot-2, 240-pound junior from Alaska, served as his team’s defensive spokesman as Saturday turned into Sunday.

“Yeah, I got in there pretty well,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it didn’t mean enough. We needed one more play after that. You know what? One guy can make one play. We have to step up and make plays every time.”

Clayton threw short to receiver Michael Johnson at the 3, with junior cornerback Jeramy Bryant playing Johnson tightly, on the next play.

Clayton then delivered the game winner, on a third-and-goal from the 15, with a touchdown lob to Payne, a 6-3, 200-pound sophomore from Western High.

With 36 seconds left, Payne hauled it in over Hopkins, a 5-9, 165-pound junior from Texas. Through a school official, Hopkins declined to talk about UNLV’s pivotal drive and Payne’s touchdown catch over him.

“It was frustrating,” Heun said. “I thought our D-line played well, we just didn’t play well enough. Clayton is a (heck) of an athlete. We knew that coming into it. They were just one point better than us today.”

Hawaii quarterback Greg Alexander entered the game at or near the top of a few NCAA categories, and he did not disappoint by completing 31 of 48 passes for 477 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception.

Much of that came in the first half.

Clayton, who was 28-for-43 with 340 yards, three touchdowns and two picks, might have had his best game as a Rebel.

“I was impressed,” Heun said. “I knew he’d be mobile. I was impressed with the way he got the ball out as quick as he did ... They spread the ball out really well. When he felt pressure, he got rid of the ball.

“He’s a good athlete, a good quarterback and a good leader, you could tell the way he rallied his guys.”

Hawaii coach Greg McMackin might have made a tactical error early in the fourth quarter when the Warriors took a 26-21 lead on Alexander’s 23-yard touchdown strike to wide-open junior receiver Greg Salas.

Instead of attempting a 2-point conversion, junior kicker Scott Enos booted the extra point through the uprights as Warriors coaches tried to call a timeout.

McMackin wasn’t watching because he was busy giving instructions to his defensive players.

“We definitely had some problems,” McMackin said of his defense. “We had to adjust. We could have gone for two. Who knows? We might have missed it … That didn’t really have a difference in the game. It could have gone a bunch of different ways.”

In the end, those adjustment problems no doubt resulted in a quiet flight back to Honolulu for the Warriors.

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