The UNLV Rebels have been waiting for this season for a decade.
The Rebels stunned the Colorado State Rams, 25-23, on a last-second 28-yard field goal by Jose Pizano on Saturday at Allegiant Stadium.
The victory makes the Rebels, now 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the Mountain West, bowl-eligible for the first time since 2013.
“It’s exciting,” said head coach Barry Odom, whose Rebels re ranked No. 4 in this week’s Nevada Appeal Mountain West football rankings. “But that’s the standard each year. We’re going to be in bowl season.”
Pizano kicked six field goals and Colorado State’s Jordan Noyes had three. Colorado State, ranked No. 5, took a 23-22 lead on a 55-yarder by Noyes with 44 seconds to play.
“We’re very disappointed we couldn’t hold on to the end,” said Rams’ coach Jay Norvell.
Colorado State took a 13-3 lead at halftime as Noyes kicked field goals of 33 and 27 yards and Anthony Morrow scored on a 2-yard run. UNLV, though scored 13 consecutive points in the third quarter on two Pizano field goals and a Donavyn Lester 11-yard run to take a 19-13 lead.
Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi connected with wide receiver Justus Ross-Simmons (two former Nevada Wolf Pack players) for a 20-yard touchdown and a 20-19 Rams’ lead with 3:49 to play.
UNLV scored points on all six of its drives in the second half, on five field goals and a touchdown.
“We have to find a way to get off the field, stop them and force them to punt,” Norvell said.
UNLV has now won five consecutive games and remains the only unbeaten team in the Mountain West (3-0 in league play), along with No. 1 Air Force (7-0, 4-0).
“It wasn’t great at halftime,” Odom said of the 13-3 deficit on Saturday. “But I didn’t have to say a word. Our team was already saying the message.”
Pizano also gave his teammates a message before the final drive. “I just said, ‘Let’s go win this game,’” he said. “I didn’t doubt that our offense was going to get us in field goal range.”
UNLV is now setting its sights on a Mountain West championship. The Rebels will have a difficult test at Fresno State this Saturday night as well as at Air Force on Nov. 18.
“Now the pursuit is to win a championship,” Odom said.
Air Force (10) and Navy (9) combined for just 19 first downs. The two triple-option teams struggled to run the ball as Air Force had just 137 yards on 48 carries (2.9 a carry) and Navy had 22 yards on 35 carries.
Both teams, surprisingly, had more passing yards (Air Force had 151 and Navy had 102) than rushing yards. Most of Air Force’s passing yards came on a school-record 94-yard touchdown pass from Zac Larrier to Dane Kinamon in the second quarter.
“That’s a heck of a football team” said Navy coach Brian Newberry of Air Force. “They played lights out on defense and kicked our butts on that side of the ball.”
No. 2 Wyoming (5-2, 2-1) and No. 3 Fresno State (6-1, 2-1) had byes last weekend, as did No. 6 Boise State (3-4, 2-1).
No. 7 San Jose State (3-5, 2-2) outscored No. 8 Utah State, 42-21, on Saturday. The game was tied 14-14 at halftime but San Jose State scored touchdowns on an 8-yard run by Quali Conley and two touchdown passes by Chevan Cordeiro to take a 35-14 lead in the fourth quarter.
San Jose State has now won two games in a row after falling to 1-5. The Spartans have scored 94 points over their last two games, whipping New Mexico, 52-24, two weeks ago before burying Hawaii.
Cordeiro was 15-of-20 for just 119 yards but tossed three touchdowns and is now tied for fifth in Mountain West history in touchdown passes at 79 with John Beck of BYU. BYU’s Max Hall is the conference leader with 94. Nevada’s Carson Strong is eighth with 74.
“I’m about as disappointed as I could be in how we played,” said Utah State coach Blake Anderson, whose Aggies fell to 3-5, 1-3 and will host Nevada on Nov. 11.
“I didn’t feel like we did anything well in any phase of the game. They were more physical than we were in every aspect.”
No. 9 Nevada (1-6, 1-2) beat No. 10 San Diego State (3-5, 1-3), 6-0, on two Brandon Talton field goals to snap its 16-game losing streak.
It is the first time Nevada has won a game with as few as six points since a 3-0 victory over the Santa Ana Air Base during World War II on Oct. 24, 1942.
San Diego State has now lost five of its last six games, scoring 10 or fewer points in four of the losses.
The Aztecs had just 11 first downs and 204 total yards against a Nevada defense that was at or near the bottom in most defensive categories in the conference.
“I’m pretty disappointed in our performance,” San Diego State coach Brady Hoke said. “It’s not what we expected.”
Nevada has now won four of its last six games against the Aztecs by an average of just 4.7 points.
No. 11 New Mexico, which plays Nevada at Mackay Stadium this Saturday, whipped No. 12 Hawaii, 42-21.
Hawaii’s Brayden Schager completed 33-of-52 passes for 345 yards and three touchdowns. New Mexico, though, intercepted three Schager passes.
New Mexico quarterback Dylan Hopkins was 20-of-25 for 202 yards and also tossed three touchdown passes.
The Nevada Appeal Mountain West football rankings for the week of Oct. 23:
1. AIR FORCE (7-0, 4-0). Last week: Air Force 17, Navy 6. This week: Air Force at Colorado State, Saturday.
2. WYOMING (5-2, 2-1). Last week: Bye. This week: Wyoming at Boise State, Saturday.
3. FRESNO STATE (6-1, 2-1). Last week: Bye. This week: UNLV at Fresno State, Saturday.
4. UNLV (6-1, 3-0). Last week: UNLV 25, Colorado State 23. This week: UNLV at Fresno State, Saturday.
5. COLORADO STATE (3-4, 1-2). Last week: UNLV 25, Colorado State 23. This week: Air Force at Colorado State, Saturday.
6. BOISE STATE (3-4, 2-1). Last week: Bye. This week: Wyoming at Boise State, Saturday.
7. SAN JOSE STATE (3-5, 2-2). Last week: San Jose State 42, Utah State 21. This week: San Jose State at Hawaii, Saturday.
8. UTAH STATE (3-5, 1-3). Last week: San Jose State 42, Utah State 21. This week: Bye.
9. NEVADA (1-6, 1-2): Last week: Nevada 6, San Diego State 0. This week: New Mexico at Nevada, Saturday.
10. SAN DIEGO STATE (3-5, 1-3). Last week: Nevada 6, San Diego State 0. This week: Bye.
11. NEW MEXICO (3-4, 1-2). Last week: New Mexico 42, Hawaii 21. This week: New Mexico at Nevada, Saturday.
12. HAWAII (2-6, 0-3). Last week: New Mexico 42, Hawaii 21. This week: San Jose State at Hawaii, Saturday.