The only things brighter than the lights of Las Vegas on Saturday night was the smiles of the UNLV players after a thrilling upset. UNLV’s first trip to Sun Devil Stadium was a memorable one to say the least, as the Runnin’ Rebels surprised with a 23-20 win.
The Sun Devil football team was only left to watch the one-handed grab by freshman wide receiver Phillip Payne and the tough running by senior running back Frank Summers.
The victory unleashed emotion for Summers and the idea of potential for Payne.
The Rebels’ game-tying drive was started with a 29-yard pass to Summers and was capped off with the highlight reel-worthy catch by Payne, resulting in his second touchdown of the game.
“This is the reason I came to UNLV,” Summers said. “It was rough year last year, but I always believed in this program.”
The Rebel running game struggled in the first half, who relied heavily on their fast-paced, no-huddle offense.
Summers only ran for eight yards in the first half but exploded for 95 yards in the second.
“I made up my mind at halftime that I was going to put my head down and run and get as many yards as possible,” Summers said.
Payne’s game-tying touchdown came with 18 seconds left on the clock and forced the game in to overtime.
“I didn’t even know what the play was,” Payne said. “I just turned around and saw [sophomore quarterback] Omar [Clayton] running, and I came back to the ball and made the catch. I was shocked.”
Coach Mike Sanford was also surprised by the strong play he got from his freshmen.
Defensive back Beau Orth came up with an interception in Sun Devil territory during the final moments of the first half, which led to a 2-yard touchdown pass from Clayton to Payne.
The UNLV offense worked quickly all night, but never seemed to be in a hurry.
Clayton managed the no-huddle offense with 191 yards and two touchdowns, and, most importantly, no interceptions.
“I don’t think it was a shock to ASU,” Clayton said of the offense. “It helped us get in the groove and that’s what worked for us tonight.”
The Rebels kept playing mistake-free football in to the fourth quarter and scored on an 18-play, 87-yard drive that took 9:16 off of the clock and pulled UNLV within seven points, 20-13.
A strong running performance by Summers allowed the Rebels to control the clock and keep ASU’s offense off of the field.
The defense then responded with an important stop that gave them the ball back with a little more than three minutes to play and a chance to shock the nation.
“We had to believe that if we got the ball, we had a chance, and we’d take advantage of it,” Clayton said. “We knew we could win if we got the ball back.”
It was sophomore defensive tackle Malo Taumua who sealed the deal for the Rebels in overtime, blocking ASU’s potentially game-tying field goal attempt.
Taumua said the ball left a mark on his hands. But he likely didn’t mind.
Taumua was part of a Rebel defense that held ASU to their lowest point total of the season.
“The biggest thing about this win is that it is only the beginning,” Sanford said. “We’ve got to capitalize on this and carry it into the next game.”