The 30-24 final score does not tell the entire story of the San Jose State Spartans’ win over the UNLV Rebels on Saturday at CEFCU Stadium. San Jose State had leads of 24-7 and 30-10, but it took a last-minute interception to seal the victory.
Kenny Potter completed 24 of 39 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns. Zamore Zigler led in rushing with 79 yards. Tim Crawley led all receivers with 114 yards on eight receptions and had a rushing touchdown, and Tre Hartley had 104 receiving yards and two touchdowns on five catches. Bryce Crawford made all three of his field goal attempts, including career highs of 39 and 44 yards.
“On offense we took our shots, and we were able to connect and make big plays,” commented San Jose State head coach Ron Caragher, who also praised the defense for making many stops early in the game.
“That’s three weeks in a row that we’ve won the turnover battle. Not only does it stop the opponent, but it gives the offense more opportunities. Open field tackling was very solid,” said Caragher.
For UNLV, freshman starting quarterback Dalton Sneed, in for the injured Johnny Stanton, completed just two of nine passes for 24 yards. Third-string quarterback Kurt Palandech replaced Sneed in the second quarter and was more productive, as he completed 10 of 21 passes for 161 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. Palandech also ran for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Devonte Boyd, a preseason first-team all-Mountain West honoree, led UNLV in receiving with 136 yards on six catches.
San Jose State’s first drive ended in a three-and-out. On the first play from scrimmage, Potter overthrew Rahshead Johnson on a deep pass attempt that might have been a touchdown. Both teams exchanged punts, and San Jose State scored first on a 34-yard field goal by Bryce Crawford with 5:21 left in the first quarter. UNLV quickly responded with a 75-yard touchdown run by Charles Williams that gave the Rebels a 7-3 lead.
Linebacker Christian Tago, one of the two defensive team captains, said that he encouraged his teammates to keep battling to the end after that long touchdown.
“It’s the first quarter. It’s a long game. So just keep our heads in it, [and] just keep fighting to the end,” said Tago.
San Jose State took the lead right back at 10-7 with a nine-play, 61-yard drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown run by Crawley.
In his postgame remarks, Crawley praised fullback Shane Smith for blocking on the play.
“It was a receiver reverse, and I’m just following Shane Smith, the fullback. He does a great job blocking on the perimeter as well as to the side,” said Crawley.
Following a UNLV three-and-out, San Jose State began the second quarter and third-and-9 from its own 37. Potter connected with Tre Hartley with a 63-yard touchdown pass to put the Spartans up 17-7. UNLV safety Troy Hawthorne collided with a teammate and fell down attempting the touchdown-saving tackle.
Hartley was one of seven walk-ons to earn scholarships following the final scrimmage of fall camp.
“I thank my teammates and coaches,” said Hartley after explaining that he needed to “focus on school” earlier as a student-athlete.
A muffed catch by punt returner Mekhi Stevenson and illegal block penalty against UNLV pinned UNLV inside its 10 with 11:36 left in the second quarter, following a 50-yard punt by Michael Carrizosa. UNLV went three-and-out, and San Jose State got the ball back on the UNLV 34. Despite this favorable starting position and 5 free yards from a UNLV offside penalty, San Jose State got nothing from this drive On fourth-and-9 from the UNLV 33, Kenny Keys broke up a pass from Potter to Hartley in the end zone. However, UNLV also went three-and-out on the ensuing possession.
San Jose State stretched its lead to 24-7 with 5:44 to go until halftime, after Potter again connected with Hartley, this time for a 29-yard touchdown pass.
Aided by a personal foul against San Jose State defensive tackle Owen Roberts, UNLV drove inside the red zone, but Nick Oreglia dropped UNLV running back David Greene for a 1-yard loss on third down. UNLV cut San Jose State’s lead to 24-10 off a 37-yard field goal by Evan Pantels. San Jose State responded with a 39-yard field goal by Crawford and went up the blue carpet with a 27-10 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, San Jose State controlled the ball for the first 6:15 with a 13-play drive that ended with a 44-yard Crawford field goal that put San Jose State up 30-10. Two plays earlier, Crawley dropped what would have been a touchdown pass from running back Malik Roberson on a second-and-5 trick play. This field goal would end up being San Jose State’s only score of the second half.
“They pressured a lot more,” said Potter about the UNLV defense. “They’re not a high [frequency] pressure team, but they brought some blitzes towards the end that caught us in some situations and made some plays from there.”
On the ensuing drive, Palandech completed a 64-yard pass to Devonte Boyd, and Andre Chachere pushed Boyd out of bounds at the San Jose State 3 to save the touchdown. The defense forced a fourth-and-goal from the San Jose State 2 and pressured Palandech on fourth down, but Palandech escaped and got the touchdown pass to tight end Andrew Price to cut San Jose State’s lead to 30-17.
After the UNLV defense ended two San Jose State drives with sacks of Potter, UNLV drove 81 yards down the field in 13 plays to cut San Jose State’s lead to 30-24 with just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter. On third-and-9 from the San Jose State 16, Palandech scrambled on the read option to score a touchdown. During that drive, Roberts jumped offside and cut a third-and-7 for UNLV to third-and-2.
San Jose State drove to the UNLV 36 on its next possession, only to have its third straight drive end with a sack on Potter. Chachere downed the punt on the UNLV 4. Having used all three timeouts on the previous drive, UNLV had just 1:57 to go 96 yards for a game-winning touchdown drive. On the first play from scrimmage, a hands to the face penalty against San Jose State defensive tackle Bryson Bridges gifted UNLV the ball at its 28. Palandech hit Price for 20 yards and Boyd for 11 yards and took UNLV to the San Jose State 44. Trevon Bierria, suspended for the first half due to a targeting penalty in last week's 42-3 loss at San Diego State, ended UNLV’s rally by picking off Palandech’s pass at the San Jose State 17.
San Jose State improves to 3-6 on the season and 2-3 in conference play. They will have a short week before playing in Friday night at the No. 24 Boise State Broncos, who were upset by Wyoming Saturday.