Parker Seibold / The Gazette via Associated Press
Published Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Updated Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023 | 4:12 p.m.
Colorado Springs, Colo. —
UNLV’s magical season continues.
The Scarlet and Gray made a goal-line stand in the final seconds, stopping Air Force on a 4th-and-goal pass with 22 seconds remaining to preserve a 31-27 win.
UNLV trailed at the half, 27-13, and proceeded to shut out Air Force the rest of the way while mounting the comeback.
Barry Odom’s squad is now 9-2 overall and, most importantly, 6-1 in the Mountain West and in sole possession of first place.
UNLV had two opportunities to put the game out of reach, as they got the ball back up by four points for a pair of drives late in the fourth quarter, but both went 3-and-out. The second of those two drives went backward, and the ensuing punt gave Air Force favorable field position with 4:02 remaining.
After converting a 4th-and-1 via quarterback sneak and moving into UNLV territory, AFA quarterback Jensen Jones was sacked by Jackson Woodard to put the Falcons in a 2nd-and-17 hole. Jones stepped up on the very next play, however, and drilled a 21-yard pass over the middle to Wyatt Wilson with 1:44 remaining.
A pass interference penalty gave Air Force a 1st-and-goal at the 10, and two stuffed runs and a batted pass set up a 4th-and-goal from the 8-yard line. Jones lofted a pass to the corner of the end zone, but linebacker Fred Thompkins had tight coverage and the throw sailed long.
UNLV will head home to host San Jose State next Saturday in the season finale, with a berth in the Mountain West title game on the line.
UNLV extends fourth-quarter lead at Air Force, now up 31-27
UNLV is throwing everything it has at Air Force, utilizing two trick plays to extend the most recent drive, eventually resulting in a field goal to extend the lead to 31-27 with 10:53 left in the game.
On a first-down play, former starting quarterback Doug Brumfield lined up at receiver and took a pitch in the backfield. After looking for a big play downfield, Brumfield kept the ball and ran for 13 yards. Four plays later UNLV dipped into the bag of tricks again, calling on punter Marshall Nichols to throw a 12-yard pass on a fourth-down fake. The play worked, moving the Scarlet and Gray into position for a 40-yard field goal by Jose Pizano.
Air Force has yet to score in the second half. Can the UNLV defense hold up, with the biggest win in program history less than 11 minutes away?
Maiava tosses go-ahead touchdown, UNLV up 28-27
UNLV’s magical season is still going strong, as the Scarlet and Gray just scored on a long touchdown drive to regain the lead, 28-27, with 2:55 left in the third quarter.
It was an uphill drive, as UNLV had not one, but two long touchdowns called back due to penalties. But Jayden Maiava eventually found tight end Kaleo Ballungay in the corner of the end zone on a 3rd-and-goal for the go-ahead score.
Maiava is now up to 339 passing yards and two touchdowns, with two interceptions.
And the UNLV defense just forced Air Force into its third punt of the half, so the Scarlet and Gray will have the ball with a chance to extend the lead.
This game has turned into a barnburner.
UNLV scores to pull within 27-21 at Air Force
UNLV opened the second half with a bang, scoring a quick touchdown to pull within 27-21.
On the second play after receiving the opening kick, Jayden Maiava found tight end Kaleo Ballungay wide open for an 84-yard catch-and-run. Ballungay was caught from behind at the 1-yard line, but Donavyn Lester scored on the next snap to make this a one-possession game again.
The 84-yarder for Ballungay was the fourth-longest pass play in UNLV history.
Air Force and UNLV traded punts on the next two drives, and the Falcons will now have the ball at their own 18-yard line with 9:22 left in the third quarter.
Maiava has two interceptions, but his 11 completions have gone for 285 yards.
Air Force takes 27-14 lead over UNLV at half
If the Scarlet and Gray want sole possession of first place, they are going to have to earn it over the final 30 minutes. At halftime, Air Force has a commanding 27-14 lead.
The Falcons ran off 24 unanswered points to go ahead 24-7; the final touchdown came after a Jayden Maiava interception that was run back inside the UNLV 10. That was Maiava’s second interception of the day, and really put the Scarlet and Gray in a hole. But the freshman quarterback shook it off and led UNLV on a 75-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes of the half, breaking off a 34-yard scramble to get it started.
Vincent Davis found the end zone on a 12-yard run to get UNLV within 10, but a defensive breakdown in the closing seconds of the half allowed Air Force quarterback Jensen Jones to gain 27 yards on a keeper; that led the Falcons to tack on a field goal at the buzzer to push it back to a 13-point margin.
After a very slow start, Air Force has rushed for 257 yards at a clip of 7.3 yards per carry.
UNLV quarterback Jayden Maiava is 9-of-15 for 194 yards and a touchdown, but he has also thrown two costly interceptions. UNLV is 1-of-6 on third downs.
It’s going to be a steep uphill climb in the second half, but UNLV does receive the kick after the break.
Air Force surges ahead of UNLV, 17-7
The tide has turned here in Colorado Springs, as Air Forced has notched three consecutive scoring drives to take a 17-7 lead over UNLV.
It took a while to get revved up, but Air Force’s option rushing attack is rolling now. The go-ahead drive needed only six plays to cover 74 yards, with quarterback Jensen Jones finishing it off with a 1-yard touchdown run, and the most recent drive went 62 yards in six plays, ending with 27-yard field goal.
Meanwhile, UNLV’s offense has been going backward since the middle of the first quarter. Air Force is closing up all running lanes, allowing just 13 yards on six handoffs so far, which has made the Scarlet and Gray attack one-dimensional. And since hitting on a couple long throws early, quarterback Jayden Maiava has not been able to find many openings downfield. On the most recent drive, he was sacked before he could get off an attempt on 3rd-and-6.
UNLV has found a way to score points all season, and they’re going to need to get back on track — fast. Can coordinator Brennan Marion figure out a way to beat this stifling Air Force defense? A score before the half would help, as UNLV will receive the kick after the break.
UNLV, Air Force tied at end of first quarter
UNLV’s offense cooled off considerably after the fast start, and Air Force just struck with a long touchdown to tie this game, 7-7, at the end of the first quarter.
It looked like the Scarlet and Gray were marching toward another score on their second drive, but Jayden Maiava and his receiver miscommunicated on a play in Air Force territory, resulting in an easy interception. UNLV’s next two drives resulted in punts.
Defensively, UNLV forced Air Force into 3-and-outs on each of the first four possessions, but the Falcons finally broke through on their fifth possession. Running back John Lee Eldridge took a pitch and followed perfect blocking off tackle, racing 55 yards for a touchdown.
Part of UNLV’s offensive struggles have been due to an inability to open running lanes against the Air Force front. Four handoffs have netted just eight yards so far.
It looked like UNLV might run away with this one early, but now they find themselves in a real fight.
Maiava to White touchdown gives UNLV early lead at Air Force
It only took two offensive plays for UNLV to announce its intentions today, as Jayden Maiava launched a 78-yard touchdown pass to Ricky White to give the Scarlet and Gray an early 7-0 lead at Air Force.
The UNLV defense came to play on the game’s opening possession, stuffing three straight Air Force runs to force a punt. The Falcons are playing without starting quarterback Zac Larrier, who was ruled out before the game due to injury.
After a fair catch, UNLV gained one yard on a run, then Maiava aired out a deep shot down the left sideline for White. The junior receiver ran under it, caught it in stride and outran the Air Force defense to the end zone.
UNLV could not have dreamed of a better start to the biggest game in program history.
UNLV heads to Air Force for first-place showdown
Is this UNLV’s moment?
After years — decades, really — of dreaming, the Scarlet and Gray finally have a football team worthy of contending for a conference championship, and they’ll head into Saturday’s game at Air Force with title hopes on the line.
UNLV and AFA both check in at 8-2 overall and 5-1 in the Mountain West. The winner of this game will gain sole control of first place and move within one more victory of the MWC championship game (while earning the inside track to hosting it). All things considered, this could be the biggest game in program history.
Are Barry Odom and his squad on the verge of making history? Three keys to watch:
Maiava taking charge
Make no mistake, UNLV is a run-first team: The Scarlet and Gray are 10th in the nation in rushing attempts and No. 1 in rushing touchdowns. The go-go offense, the blockers and the stable of running backs are the engine that makes UNLV go. But the team has really taken off since Jayden Maiava settled into his role as the starting quarterback.
Maiava may have initially been forced into duty due to injury, but he has gotten better as the season has gone along, and his next-level connection with big-play receiver Ricky White has raised the ceiling of the offense.
In the last five games, Maiava has completed 71.0% of his passes for an average of 271.4 yards per game, with eight touchdowns and just two interceptions. He has also rushed for two touchdowns during that span.
After beating Wyoming, Odom praised Maiava for his calm demeanor in piloting the offense, christening him “Mr. Stoic.”
If this game comes down to a drive or two in the fourth quarter, UNLV has faith that, despite his youth, Maiava will deliver.
Air Force injuries
Air Force is built around its option-rushing attack, and starting quarterback Zac Larrier is the trigger man. He has six passing touchdowns, and he’s also the Falcons No. 2 rusher with 579 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. He is a weapon.
Larrier was banged up in Air Force’s surprising loss at Hawaii last week, however, and exited the game early. At that point, the Falcons offense cratered, and they finished with just 13 points and four turnovers.
If Larrier is out or even slowed against UNLV, that’s a major blow for Air Force. And then there’s the fact that AFA is also dealing with an injury to top running back Emmanuel Michel (733 yards, nine touchdowns), who did not play against Hawaii.
How many injuries can the Falcons sustain while remaining competitive at the highest level of the Mountain West? We may find out on Saturday.
Nothing would define the turnaround job being authored by Barry Odom more than a signature win at Air Force.
The Falcons have dominated UNLV in recent years, including handing them an ugly 48-14 loss in the 2021 season finale in which the Scarlet and Gray flat-out quit in the first quarter. That game served as one of the absolute low points of Marcus Arroyo’s tenure, and it didn’t get much better in the 2022 matchup, as Air Force hung a 42-7 loss on him at Allegiant Stadium.
To go from that, to knocking off Air Force at their place in a battle for first place in the penultimate game just one year later, would be a remarkable feather in Odom’s cap.
What: UNLV (8-2, 5-1 MWC) at Air Force (8-2, 5-1 MWC)
When: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: 1100AM, 100.9FM
Line: Air Force -3
Jayden Maiava: 65.5%, 2,058 yards, 11 TDs, 4 INTs
Jai’Den Thomas: 420 yards, 4.6 yards per carry, 9 TDs
Ricky White: 63 receptions, 1,028 yards, 6 TDs
Jackson Woodard: 84 tackles, 3.0 TFLs, 1 INT
Zac Larrier: 59.7%, 744 yards, 6 TDs, 2 INTs
Emmanuel Michel: 733 yards, 4.5 yards per carry, 9 TDs
Jared Roznos: 11 receptions, 332 yards, 2 TDs
Bo Richter: 37 tackles, 14.0 TFLs, 6.0 sacks