UNLV beats Colorado State to be bowl eligible

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA Today
UNLV clinches bowl eligibility on homecoming and now controls their own destiny for a Mountain West title game berth.

LAS VEGAS–Who else but Jose Pizano?

On a team loaded with weapons on both sides of the ball, it probably sounds a bit absurd to suggest that UNLV’s MVP this season has been their kicker. However, after Jose Pizano’s 19-point performance on Saturday, it might just be the reality.

Pizano buried six field goals in six attempts, adding an extra point. He sent the game-winning kick through the uprights from 28-yards out less than two minutes after he kicked what probably should have been the game-winner from 46-yards out with 1:27 remaining.

The game didn’t yield the fruits of production fans have come to expect from Brennan Marion’s go-go offense. Down 13-3 at half, the Rebel defense stepped up even further and came up with several timely stops that allowed the offense to find it’s footing after a lackluster start.

Donavyn Lester scored the Rebels’ only touchdown with 3:06 remaining in the third quarter, an 11-yard rush that gave UNLV their first lead of the day at 16-13.

Down 19-13 with just under four minutes remaining, CSU freshman QB Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi found Justus Ross-Simmons for the game-tying touchdown pass, with K Jordan Noyes extra point recapturing a 20-19 lead.

After Colorado State forced a fourth down with 1:27 remaining, Pizano’s aforementioned fifth field goal gave the Rebels a 22-20 lead that surely they would have liked to hold on to.

The Rams of Fort Collins, CO weren’t ready to roll over yet, though. On fourth-and-five with :43 seconds left, coach Jay Norvell sent the offense onto the field before calling a timeout. After the timeout, the Rams’ kicker by way Dartford, England trotted out for a 55-yard field goal. In the pros, that’s an easy decision. With college kickers, a 55-yard field goal is an enormous risk.

And yet, Norvell’s brass paid off as Noyes sent the 55-yard kick barreling through the uprights. It would have been good from 65.

That was Norvell’s last good decision of the night, as he then inexplicably called a squib kick on the ensuing kick-off, setting UNLV up with great field position and more than enough time to drive for their own game-winning field goal.

Maiava went into attack mode, finding Ricky White and David De Jesus each for 20-yard completions that set UNLV up inside their own 10-yard line and in chip shot range for their trusty kicker.

I think you know the rest.

25-22, Rebels win.

“Our team showed toughness, they showed resolve, they showed togetherness, they showed strain,” Coach Barry Odom told the media postgame. “It wasn’t great at halftime and I didn’t have to say a word, our team did, and I was proud of them for that”

UNLV travels to Fresno State next week for a crucial Mountain West tilt against the Bulldogs. The game will be nationally televised on FS1, kicking off at 7:30 p.m. PDT.