UNLV upends Liberty-bowl bound Rams

The Colorado State Rams accepted the Mountain West Conference championship trophy Saturday night, but the experience was slightly bitter-sweet. Tyrone Tucker UNLV linebacker Tyrone Tucker hits Colorado State quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt from behind. <BR><BR> Larry Croom ran for 222 yards and a touchdown, and DeJhown Mandley caught a 29-yard touchdown pass with 46 seconds left as Nevada-Las Vegas earned a 36-33 upset over Colorado State (No. 13 ESPN/USA Today, No. 16 AP) on Saturday.

Croom had 146 yards in the second half, scored on a 3-yard run in the first and set up two other scores with runs of 50 yards or more.

"When your No. 1 quarterback goes down, it is up to us to step it up,'' said Croom, who had only 383 yards in his previous 11 games. "Our running game has always been potent, but we knew we had to give more.''

UNLV had 390 yards rushing to beat Colorado State for the first time since 1982, a span of seven games. The running game kept the pressure off quarterback Kurt Nantkes, who overcame two first-half interceptions to throw three touchdown passes.

"When we run the football, our quarterbacks play well. It is when we are unable to run that things get tougher,'' said UNLV coach John Robinson, whose team reached five games for just the fourth time in 15 years.

Colorado State (10-3, 6-1), which wrapped up the conference title last week, had its six-game winning streak end. The Rams gave up more than 200 yards rushing at home for the first time since Nov. 17, 1975, when Utah State's Louis Giammona had 242.

Colorado State can still tie the school record for victories in a season at the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31, but the conference trophy presentation after the game had a hollow feeling to it.

"We had our minds set on a lot of things: the seniors' last game, moving up in the rankings, going undefeated in conference,'' Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick said. "Sometimes you get caught in a trap with all of those emotional things and forget you have to play well.''

Colorado State's Cecil Sapp, who has been bothered by turf toe the last two weeks, had 157 yards on 31 carries. He has 1,495 yards this season, 76 more than Steve Bartalo's 1986 team record.

"It was a good thing that happened, but a bad thing that happened at the same time,'' Sapp said. "I just couldn't be happy with what I had done.''

Earvin Johnson caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Nantkes -- his second of the game -- to put UNLV up 30-22 midway through the fourth, but Colorado State needed just 40 seconds to score on a 26-yard touchdown run by Rahsaan Sanders.

Bradlee Van Pelt avoided a sack and hit Joey Cuppari for the 2-point conversion to tie it at 30-all.

Colorado State then took a 33-30 lead on a 26-yard field goal by Jeff Babcock with 4:06 left, but the Rebels moved 80 yards in eight plays for the winning score. Mandley was wide open up the middle and fought through two tacklers before falling into the end zone.

"I wasn't getting the ball a lot, so they stopped playing me,'' Mandley said. "There were a couple of times when I had chances, but on this one I was fortunate to make a big play.''

Mandley's game-winner helped the Rebels overcome a rough beginning for Nantkes, who got the start after Thomas had his foot stepped on in practice Wednesday.

Nantkes' first interception, by Adam Hall at the Rams 15, set up a 3-yard touchdown pass from Van Pelt to James Sondrup that put the Rams up 9-0.

Rhett Nelson returned Nantke's second interception 12 yards to Colorado State's 42, setting up a 36-yard field goal by Babcock that put the Rams up 19-7 midway through the second.

But Nantke bounced back with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Johnson early in the third quarter to put UNLV up 21-19, giving Colorado State its deficit since the first quarter of a 44-36 victory over Wyoming on Oct. 12.

"I started to get a rush. I knew I had to prepare like a starter and not like a backup anymore,'' said Nantkes, who was 16-for-26 for 185 yards. "I got a little flustered on my first couple of throws. I tried aiming the ball instead of just throwing it like I can, and got more and more comfortable.''

Babcock kicked four field goals, giving him 23 this season, a team record.

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