The Rebels (3-4, 0-3) dropped their third straight game since winning back-to-back overtime contests over Arizona State and Iowa State. And for the second straight game, UNLV let a fourth quarter lead slip away in the final minutes.
The Rebels rallied from an early 17-7 deficit to take a 28-20 lead early in the fourth quarter on a 45-yard touchdown run by Frank Summers with 14:50 remaining.
UNLV still looked to be in good shape even after Air Force answered with a quick score on a 44-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tim Jefferson to Kyle Halderman. Cornerback Geoff Howard stopped Halderman on a two-point conversion attempt and the Rebels still led, 28-26.
And even after the Rebels were forced to punt after picking up a pair of first downs on their next possession, they still had Air Force bottled up on its own eight-yard line with just 9:39 to go.
But the Falcons, who rushed for 346 yards on the night and had 26 first downs, methodically drove the length of the field. Ryan Harrison capped a 17-play, 91-yard drive with a 19-yard field goal to give Air Force a 29-28 lead with 2:36 remaining.
The Rebels appeared to be in good shape to at least get a game-tying field goal attempt when quarterback Omar Clayton connected with freshman wide receiver Phillip Payne for a 22-yard completion to the Air Force 47 with 1:28 to go.
Clayton then hit wide receiver Casey Flair with a seven-yard pass to the Falcon 40. But that was as close as UNLV would get.
After throwing an incomplete pass on second down, Clayton surprisingly ran out of bounds for a seven-yard loss on 3rd-and-3.
"I made a mistake," Clayton said. "I should have thrown the ball away."
Now faced with a much more difficult 4th-and-10, Clayton tried to drill a pass between two Air Force defenders to wide receiver Jerriman Robinson who was hammered and couldn't hold on.
"We have to find a way on that last drive to take it down and score," Sanford said. "I believed we were going to, and we didn't get it done.
"I think the bottom line is you've got to make plays in each phase of the game, when the game is on the line. We have to make plays on defense, on special teams and we have to make plays on offense."
"A loss is a loss," Clayton said. "We just didn't get it done."
"We're not winning the close games," senior defensive tackle Jacob Hales added. "We're not making the plays at the end to win the close games. I mean, they shouldn't even be close games but they are. And we're just not winning them."
That's in stark contrast to the first month of the season when UNLV found a way to pull out back-to-back overtime games at Arizona State and against Iowa State.
It doesn't get any easier for the Rebels who now travel to BYU before returning home for tough back-to-back games against TCU and New Mexico.
"We have to keep working to get better and keep fighting to get better," Sanford said. "The season is not over. The team is not dead and we are going to come back. … We have a big game next week at BYU. We have to rally up the troops and come back, and go into Provo and win that game."
Rebels drop third in a row, 29-28
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