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January 17, 2022

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Take 5: Plays that led to UNLV’s demise in stunning loss to Northern Arizona

UNLV vs. Northern Arizona

Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Northern Arizona players celebrate their win over during their game Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012 at Sam Boyd Stadium. The Division I-AA Lumberjacks upset the Rebels 17-14.

UNLV vs. Northern Arizona

Northern Arizona lineman Trey Gilleo rushes to greet running back Zach Bauman after Bauman's touchdown during their game Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012 at Sam Boyd Stadium. The Division I-AA Lumberjacks upset the Rebels 17-14. Launch slideshow »

After UNLV’s stunning 17-14 loss to Northern Arizona on Saturday night, everyone around the team and in the stands was left searching for answers.

The Rebels started the game so well and then everything went so wrong. It was puzzling, to say the least, but there were a lot of plays throughout the game that led to UNLV’s demise. Mistakes, questionable play calling; for most of the final three quarters nothing seemed to go right. And with this on the heels of last week’s 30-27 triple-overtime loss to Minnesota, everyone is grasping for answers.

“Right now we’re searching for ways to win,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said.

And in that search UNLV found ways to lose, including these five, well, technically six, plays. This doesn’t include the plethora of dropped passes by Rebels receivers because there’s only so much space and after a game like this the list could go on at least twice as long:

1. Fake field goal

After the game Hauck talked about failing to have a killer instinct, and, in hindsight, this may be where that failing led them in the wrong direction.

UNLV lined up for a 42-yard field-goal attempt, but instead the holder, backup quarterback Caleb Herring, stood up, rolled out to his left and threw deep into one-on-one coverage.

The play itself wasn’t that bad. Herring may have had room to scamper for a first down, and the intended target, defensive end Jordan Sparkman, used to be a tight end and had a significant size advantage over the guy guarding him.

“I’m not sure if he could run it for a first down or not but we had a good play,” Hauck said. “… We successfully ran it in practice this week numerous times.”

But when you’re the home, higher-division team playing with a lead, the call seems a bit strange. If it had worked out then everyone looks like a genius, but since it didn’t it’s easy to say UNLV should have attempted the kick or punted to bury NAU in its own territory.

Either way, it turned out to be a missed opportunity.

2. NAU’s punt return TD/UNLV’s missed field goal

I lumped these together because they’re both kind of fluky.

On the punt return, which was NAU’s first possession of the second half, punter Chase Lansford outkicked the coverage a bit and no one forced returner Austin Sharks sideways. With a running start Sharks was gone in an instant and the Lumberjacks had cut the lead to 14-7.

Early in the fourth quarter UNLV’s drive, which started at its own 12, stalled at the NAU 13. Nolan Kohorst came out with a chance to put UNLV ahead 17-7, but instead drilled the right upright. Obviously those points would have been big, but NAU also had a similar-length field goal blocked to end the first half.

Of all these plays, the punt return and field goal probably hold the least overall blame because they were more common mistakes that occurred early enough in the game that they could have been overcome.

3. Sidney Hodge pass interference

Penalties ended up playing a big role in UNLV’s demise, and the last three plays listed all fit that category. UNLV finished with eight penalties for 78 yards, which isn’t that bad, but they all seemed to come at the worst possible time.

On NAU’s touchdown drive, UNLV defensive back Fred Wilson committed pass interference on the first play. The more costly one, though, came three plays later when the Rebels would have forced a punt if not for Hodge’s pass interference on third and 10. It was his second such penalty of the second half.

That gave NAU new life, which it eventually turned into seven points. Hodge was visibly upset with the ref who made the call, but watching it live he didn’t seem to have much of a case to be made.

4. Tim Cornett trying to hold

This is more indicative of UNLV’s offensive woes most of the game. On what would turn out to be the Rebels’ last real drive of the game — not counting their final two plays after NAU’s field goal — the offense faced second and nine at its own 48. They still had everything to play for, until the Lumberjacks’ Anders Battle blitzed around the end, shook off Cornett’s attempt to hold him (the penalty was declined) and sacked UNLV quarterback Nick Sherry for a nine-yard loss.

“I don’t feel like it’s the fight we lack, I feel like it’s the play-making ability,” Cornett said after the game.

Once the NAU defense adjusted to UNLV’s running game, the Rebels had no effective counter attack. What they were left with was their best offensive player unable to even commit a penalty properly.

5. Trent Allmang-Wilder's hands to the face

NAU may have been trying to run out the clock when it took over at its own 14 with 1:16 left. A 25-yard run changed those plans, but it was Allmang-Wilder’s hands-to-the-face penalty that moved the Lumberjacks into Rebel territory and really set up the game-winning field goal.

With where the flag was thrown, it looked like it could be a drive-killing offensive holding call. Everything that had led up to that point suggested otherwise.

It was a fitting end to UNLV’s miserable night.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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