That logic held true for one half.
Afterward, however, the Rebels used their ground game and defense to rally from an 11-point halftime deficit and beat the Falcons, 38-35. Bradley Randle rushed for three touchdowns and Tim Cornett ran for 114 yards and a score.
Freshman Nick Sherry completed 23 of 32 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown, and the Rebels (1-3, 1-0 Mountain West) held off the Falcons in the final seconds at midfield.
“When the clock hit zeroes, we all just went crazy on the sideline,” Sherry said. “We have been fighting so hard these last three weeks and to come so close, it really takes a toll on you.”
After the Rebels gave up 180 first-quarter rushing yards and trailed 14-7, they outrushed the Falcons 199-172 in the final three quarters.
“The message at halftime was that we needed to tackle better and play the cut block on the edge better,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said. “On the offensive side of the ball, it was keep doing what we are doing. That’s what happens when people stick with it. We have a lot of pride in that locker room.”
The Rebels trailed 28-17 at halftime before scoring 21 unanswered points on Randle scoring runs of 1 and 9 yards and William Vea’s 7-yard TD reception with 6:56 remaining.
“Bradley’s finishes were physical,” Hauck said. “He obviously smelled the goal line.”
“(UNLV) was the hungrier team,” Dietz said. “They wanted it more in the second half. You can’t take too many plays off. Unfortunately, we did that too many times. (UNLV) was fast and physical.”
The Falcons finished with 352 yards rushing.
Air Force cut the UNLV lead to 38-35 on a Dietz 3-yard run with 4:41 remaining.
The Rebels and Hauck gambled on their next possession, going for it on fourth and inches on their 34. Sherry fell forward for 3 yards.
“Our offensive line had been pushing them all day,” Sherry said. “We have a great O-line and great running backs and we were an inch away. The line got a great push, and it was easy for me to just fall forward.”
Air Force got the ball back with 51 seconds left and no timeouts at its 25 and advanced 20 yards before running out of time.
“Our guys were ready to play,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “But we got outplayed in the second half, and that’s a credit to UNLV. They were able to control the line of scrimmage. Their size was a factor. But we have to learn to play bigger.”
In the series, Air Force had won five straight and nine of 10.
Randle’s second TD of the night was set up by an Air Force turnover, as Marc Hendricks fumbled after a 26-yard reception at the UNLV 22. Kenny Brown forced the fumble, and Tani Maka recovered it. Cornett’s rush for 76 yards put the ball at the Falcons’ 2, and Bradley cut the Air Force lead to 28-24.
“One touchdown should not determine the outcome of the game,” Dietz said. “Obviously, we should have been able to come back from that (turnover). At that point, we just have to put it behind us.”
The Falcons led 14-7 after the first quarter. Mike DeWitt had a 1-yard run, and Getz added a 2-yard run with 25 seconds left in the quarter. The Rebels’ score was set up by a 60-yard pass from Sherry to Marcus Sullivan to the Air Force 2-yard line, and Cornett ran it in on the next play.
After the Rebels cut the lead to 14-10, Alex Means’ 21-yard interception return gave Air Force the ball at the UNLV 8. Two plays later, Broam Hart ran it in with 7:10 remaining in the half. UNLV cut the lead to 21-17 on a Randle 1-yard run with 50 seconds left.
Air Force scored on a Dietz 7-yard run through the left side with 10 seconds remaining in the half. Dietz’s 58-yard pass to Ty MacArthur set up the score.