UNLV racked up 307 yards on the ground and six rushing touchdowns as the Rebels (3-1) defeated the Miners (1-4), 45-28, on Saturday night.
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Torrance Burgess Jr. rushed for a career-high 99 yards on 19 carries (5.2 avg.), while Kelly Akharaiyi, after no receptions on eight targets last week, responded with 92 yards on four catches.
Despite the defense yielding 497 yards of total offense, Tyrice Knight amassed 15 more tackles, including 13 solo stops. Praise Amaewhule tied his career best with eight tackles and picked off his first career pass.
But UNLV’s rushing attack was stellar as Jai’Den Thomas had a game-high 100 yards and four rushing touchdowns, Vincent Davis tallied 97 yards on the ground, Courtney Reese recorded 58 yards and a score, and Donavyn Lester added a touchdown.
UNLV jumped out to an early 7-0 lead at the 9:27 mark when Thomas rushed for a 12-yard score. The Rebels scored on the first play of the drive following a blocked punt. UNLV’s Cameren Jenkins blocked a Joshua Sloan attempt that was recovered at the UTEP 12.
“The blocked punt was very critical for us early in the game. You can’t give up blocked punts and to me the game was just starting to take an ebb and flow to it and we give up the blocked punt and gives [UNLV] a touchdown opportunity and gets them the lead,” UTEP Head Coach Dana Dimel said. “The we scrape and claw our way back to tie the score. One of our goals is to win the last four minutes of the second quarter because it gives you so much momentum going into the half. But we obviously didn’t do that. We gave up the touchdown drive from them, and then had that turnover on the third and long play.”
UTEP answered on the ensuing possession. The Miners drove the ball 75 yards on 10 plays that was capped by a Gavin Hardison one-yard QB sneak to pay dirt. The key play on the drive was a Marcus Bellon 20-yard reception to the 20 on a third-and-18 from the UNLV 42.
However, the Rebels used three-play 75-yard drive that was highlighted by a 56-yard rushing attempt by Vincent Davis to the UTEP 19. Thomas capped the drive with his second TD of the night, scoring from 17 yards out.
The Miners tied the contest at 14 when Hardison scored his second rushing TD on a one-yard plunge. It was the first time in his career he rushed for a pair of touchdowns, while it was his third career rushing score.
UNLV took the lead back at 21-14 and never looked back. The Rebels used a five-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a Lester one-yard touchdown rush. The score was set up by a 53-yard Ricky White reception to the one. Tyrice Knight chased White down in the open field and made the tackle at the one.
Following a Hardison interception to Cameron Oliver in UTEP territory, Thomas’s third TD of the contest put the Rebels up 28-14 with 1:01 left in the half.
UTEP came out of the second half and engineered a 75-yard, eight-play drive that resulted in an 11-yard scoring run by Burgess Jr. to get within seven points (28-21) at the 11:12 mark of the third.
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