Late TD pass leaves Rebels feeling blue

RENO – All signs pointed for overtime after Travis Dixon quarterbacked UNLV on an impressive 65-yard touchdown drive to tie the game, 20-20, with 1:02 remaining in the game. But that turned out to be too much time for Nevada and quarterback Nick Graziano Saturday afternoon at sold-out Mackay Stadium.

Graziano (20 of 38, 330, yards, 3 TDs, 1 Int.) connected with a wide-open wide receiver Kyle Sammons for a 43-yard touchdown pass with 27 seconds left to give the Wolf Pack a dramatic 27-20 victory in the 33rd Battle for the Fremont Cannon.

Nevada had to hold its breath as Dixon gave the Rebels one last chance, driving UNLV all the way to the Wolf Pack 16 yard line with just 4.4 seconds left on the clock. But Dixon, who had connected Ryan Wolfe with a 30-yard touchdown pass to tie it, overthrew Rodelin Anthony and Casey Flair at the back of the right corner of the end zone on the final play of the game. "We just ran out of time," dejected senior linebacker Beau Bell said.

"It just kills me … hurts," UNLV head coach Mike Sanford said. "It's just very disappointing (and) frustrating because we had our chances to win that game."

The Rebels botched a 52-yard field goal attempt midway through the fourth quarter when long-snapper Kamu Kapanui, apparently confused after UNLV had discussed perhaps pooch-punting instead, sent a high snap directly to placekicker Sergio Aguayo as he was marking his steps for his field goal attempt.

An even bigger mistake happened midway through the second quarter with Nevada holding a 10-3 lead. On a third-and-seven at the Nevada 15, Dixon hit wide receiver Gerold Rodriguez on a slant. The ball hit a Rodriguez in the hands at the three and then bounced directly to Wolf Pack free safety Mike Samples for an interception.

Meanwhile, the young Rebel secondary was burned twice for long touchdowns, a 90-yarder from Graziano to Mike McCoy in the first quarter and the game-winner to Sammons.

Sophomore linebacker Marquel Martin, UNLV's nickel back, was beaten by about three yards up the right sideline on the game-winner.

"We were in Cover 4," Martin said. "If I read there is a wheel route, it's my job to cover it. … I kind of got my read late. Once I saw him on top of me I just tried to trail as fast as I can. Once I saw his eyes go for the ball I just tried to make a play."

It was too late then.

"I wasn't expecting to be that open and Graziano made a great throw," Sammons said.

"It is a sick feeling to know that it had to end like that," Martin said. Sanford said he was proud of the way his young team continued to battle until the final play.

"Our team fought back," he said. "I think there's some really good signs of maturation of our team. We're a young football team and I loved the way we kept fighting back. "

Asked about Dixon's play, Sanford replied: "I thought he was tremendous. I thought we were going to score there at the end. I really believed it. And I think he believed we were going to score, too."

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