Sunday, Sept. 27, 2009 | 2:30 a.m.
- Opponent: UNR
- Date: Oct. 3, 1 p.m. PDT
- Where: Reno, Nev.
- TV: None
- Radio: ESPN Radio 1100 AM
LARAMIE, Wyo. — The last thing UNLV should have felt coming into Saturday's Mountain West Conference opener was comfort.
The Rebels had not only nearly given their coaches and fans heart attacks with late-game dramatics the previous two weeks, but also hadn't won a road game in league play in their last 19 tries.
Well, now, make that 20, thanks to a 30-27 loss to Wyoming at War Memorial Stadium.
After the game, senior linebacker Jason Beauchamp hinted that he sensed some of the Rebels may have felt too comfortable walking into what turned out to be a bee hive masked as the home of a struggling 1-2 ball club.
"These last couple weeks, we felt like we'd done some things, and we've got guys looking forward to the whole Mountain West and the conference and everything, and just started assuming, 'Oh, we're predicted to beat these guys, so lets beat 'em,'" Beauchamp said. "The whole thing was we just felt like we were going to win, guys were getting too comfortable, that's all that was."
Beauchamp made the revelation in response to a question asking whether the team began to tense up at all as it found itself in yet another need-to-score, need-to-get-a-stop situation late in the game.
The truth was, however, that the game should have never come down to that.
UNLV left plenty of points on the board, and Wyoming responded in a fashion it hadn't shown yet under first-year coach Dave Christensen, who was best known for the prolific offense he coordinated at Missouri in recent seasons.
True freshman quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, making his first career start at the helm of Christensen's complex scheme, went 24-of-37 for 234 yards and three touchdown passes.
His first career scoring toss, which tied the game at 13-13 late in the first half, snapped a 10-quarter drought without a touchdown for the Cowboys offense.
Had UNLV done what it typically does best earlier in the half, Wyoming could have been on the ropes at the break instead of believing it could pull off the upset.
"What I told our team is, today, we didn't do what we do, and what we do is score in the red zone," UNLV coach Mike Sanford said. "Today, we didn't score touchdowns in the red zone. We've got to do that to win a game like this."
The Rebels, who tied with Ohio State last season as the nation's most efficient red zone offense, first had a chance to take control in the second quarter, when leading 7-6, but instead settled for a 28-yard Kyle Watson field goal.
Then, another opportunity presented itself out of seemingly nowhere, when a miscommunication led to Wyoming attempting a fake punt pass on fourth-and-four from its own 26-yard line midway through the second.
The blown risk left UNLV with a chance to take a two-score lead, but again the Rebels walked away with a chip-shot field goal from Watson.
UNLV's lone blown red zone try in the second half hurt more than the field goals.
Omar Clayton threw the first of his two interceptions on the team's first possession in the third quarter, with Tashaun Gipson jumping a slant pass to Phillip Payne at the goal line.
Gipson would pick him off yet again with the score tied, 27-27, and just under eight minutes to play in the game. This time, however, it was right on the heels of Carta-Samuels' third touchdown pass of the game and gave Wyoming all the momentum it needed.
UNLV would get one more shot with the ball after Wyoming's Ian Watts put the Cowboys up 30-27 with 4:21 to play.
The Rebels got the ball down to the Pokes' 28-yard line, called a timeout while facing a fourth-and-three, and decided to let Watson attempt to tie the game with just over a minute to go. Then, UNLV suffered a delay of game flag, and a 50-yard field goal try never touched Watson's foot, as Brendon Lamers' hold slipped away and the 19,196 on hand erupted.
"It was a snap directly to a spot, and I put it down and some how, some way, the ball moved — obviously, my fault," Lamers said. "The ball was tilted a little bit, Kyle hesitated to hit the ball, and then it just somehow went forward. It just somehow got pushed forward."
When points are left on the board and opportunities to take control are lost, those are the kinds of quirky things that can happen late, and by now, the Rebels know it all too well.
All in all, UNLV scored on five of its six trips inside of Wyoming's 20-yard line, but the two field goals and interception thrown stood out like sore thumbs.
A season that was given new life a week ago with a dramatic 34-33 victory over Hawaii at home now is once again hanging in the balance.
And, once again, the 2-2 Rebels have no time to pout, as they have to scoop themselves up for another emotional bout next Saturday on the road against UNR, which dropped to 0-3 with a nationally televised loss to Missouri on Friday night.
To look a little further ahead, UNLV will have to worry about MWC heavyweights BYU and Utah in the following weeks. In other words, for a team with postseason hopes, games like Saturday's setback in Wyoming could be considered crucial.
"After a tough loss against Oregon State, I thought we were able to do that," Clayton said. "Not only is next week a game, next week is UNR. It's the battle for the (Fremont) cannon. I haven't had it since I've been here. It's a very crucial game for us. I'll be ready to think about UNR tomorrow. I'll let this one hurt a little bit, because that's what needs to happen."