Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016 | 8 p.m.
Tony Sanchez jokingly complained of back tightness from the stress of UNLV’s 69-66 triple overtime victory over Wyoming, a symptom that could be either completely understandable or slightly confusing depending on interpretation.
On the one count, it must have been taxing to coach through a game that set the mark for the most points ever scored in a Mountain West Conference contest and fell one point short of the NCAA record. On the other, Sanchez excised a massive weight by snapping a two-game losing streak and getting to 3-3 in league play.
The win over Wyoming was likely the biggest of the UNLV coach’s two-year career considering the Cowboys came into the game undefeated in the Mountain West and sitting in first in the Mountain division.
“A building starts with a bunch of bricks,” Sanchez said. “We put a brick down in the building today. It’s a big deal.”
The Rebels had gone to overtime twice previously under Sanchez, and come out as he put it, with their heads down in disappointment. A bizarre set of circumstances including a full-body cramp and a fortunate false-start penalty conspired to set up the decisive final play that had the Rebels joyously rushing the field and taking pictures with the scoreboard post-game Saturday.
Senior Nicolai Bornand, who originally came to UNLV as a defensive recruit before transitioning full-time to kicker, was pressed into action when starter Evan Pantels entire body seized up late in the third quarter.
“How a kicker gets that,” Sanchez shook his head, “I have no idea.”
Bornand’s first field goal attempt of the season was set to be a 36-yard potential game-winner in triple overtime. He appeared to shank the ball, but it didn’t matter.
The Rebels committed a false start and were penalized five yards. From 41 yards, Bornand booted the field goal through easily.
“I kind of neutralized and got my thoughts right,” Bornand said. “I just focused in. (The flag) really helped.”
Bornand nearly won the game for UNLV at the end of regulation while filling in for Pantels on a punt. With 1:06 to go and the Rebels clinging to a 52-45 lead, Bornand nailed a 51-yard punt downed at the Cowboys’ 3-yard line.
The Rebels stuffed the first two plays, including an intentional grounding penalty that pushed the ball to the 1-yard line, but the Cowboys persevered to drive 99 yards. On the final play of regulation, Wyoming senior receiver Tanner Gentry — who tore up UNLV all day with five receptions for 184 yards — caught a tying touchdown pass along the end zone sideline.
“It was tough but we had faith,” said sophomore running back Xzaviar Campbell. “I knew we were going to come out at the end and finish because that’s all we practice — start fast; finish.”
Campbell hadn’t logged more than one carry in a game since an opening-night win over Jackson State, but led a Rebels’ rushing attack that racked up 401 yards against the Cowboys. With starter Lexington Thomas out to injury and second-stringer Charles Williams — 13 carries for 65 yards — also banged up and limited, Campbell put up a total of 101 yards and two touchdowns on 21 touches.
Senior David Greene had 74 yards and two touchdowns, while junior quarterback Kurt Palandech had the longest rush of the day. Palandech broke free for 76 yards in the fourth quarter to make the score 52-45 after Wyoming fell for a play-action fake for nearly half of his 157 total rushing yards.
But the Cowboys tightened their rush defense in the overtime periods, holding the Rebels to 14 yards on six attempts. UNLV had to go to the air.
Making his first start of the season, Palandech found freshman receiver Jericho Flowers for a 22-yard touchdown on third down in the first overtime before connecting with senior Andrew Price for 4 yards on third down in the second overtime.
“There were some mistakes out there, but overall as an offense, we played a lot better than we have before,” Palandech said. “As we continue, I’m going to make the most of the opportunities I get.”
Palandech had the most effective start for a Rebels quarterback this season, throwing for 252 yards on 20-for-32 passing. Problem was, the Cowboys were even more efficient.
UNLV used a plus-2 turnover edge to run 27 more plays and hold the ball for 17 more minutes than Wyoming in regulation, but the Cowboys gained 7.5 yards per play when they had the ball. Sophomore quarterback Josh Allen passed for 334 yards in completing 14 of 31 attempts, while junior running back Brian Hill totaled 119 rushing yards.
They didn’t slow down in overtime, with Hill and Allen each scoring in a total of five plays spread across the first two overtimes. At the start of the third overtime, however, senior cornerback Torry McTyer read a play that UNLV had practiced all week.
He broke towards the receiver, and came up with his second interception of the game.
“I looked and the ball was there,” McTyer said. “I kind of bobbled it a little bit, but then I came down with it.”
McTyer was confident when Bornand trotted onto the field for the game-winning field goal a few minutes later. He said the wild game brought the Rebels together, and he was never worried about the result.
Sanchez endured enough anxiety for all of his players.
“It was an emotional roller coaster,” Sanchez said. “It was one of those deals where you just want to make one more play than they do. It was tough. I’d rather not go to overtime.”