UNLV freshman’s historic day paces Rebels in 45-28 win

Lucas Peltier-UNLV Athletics
Freshman Jai’Den “Jett” Thomas tied the UNLV single-game record for touchdowns in the Rebels’ decisive victory over UTEP.

UNLV’s run game was a wrecking ball to UTEP on Saturday. The Rebels tallied a whopping 307 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. UNLV’s dominance began in the trenches, where their size and power simply overmatched UTEP from the jump.

Freshman Jayden Maiava made his first career start for UNLV, filling in for Doug Brumfield. Maiava entered the game last week and led a 14-0 comeback after Brumfield went down.

The truth is, it didn’t matter who was under center on Saturday. UNLV’s ground-and-pound game was as good as it’s ever been.

Jett Thomas, for one, couldn’t have done more to lend his fellow freshman a helping hand. He racked up 102 yards and a school-record tying four touchdowns on just 11 carries.

Thomas and UTEP QB Gavin Hardison alternated touchdown runs on the game’s first four possessions, leaving the score tied at 14 early in the second quarter.

Donavyn Lester scored on a one-yard touchdown run following a 56-yard catch and run by Ricky White, putting the Rebels ahead 21-14 after Jose Pizano’s extra point.

On the ensuing UTEP possession, UNLV CB Cameron Oliver intercepted a pass from Hardison and returned it into UTEP territory. Jett Thomas punched-in his third rushing touchdown of the first half to help send UNLV into the break with a 28-14 lead.

The third quarter was relatively quiet, with with an 11-yard touchdown run from UTEP’s Torrance Burgess Jr. marking the only festivities. UNLV maintained a 28-21 lead through three quarters.

Jett Thomas’ fourth touchdown of the day provided a brief insurance cushion for the Rebels, before a 27-yard touchdown reception by UTEP’s Jeremiah Ballard once again brought UTEP back within a score.

On UNLV’s next drive, senior running back and mainstay Courtney Reese provided the knock-out punch, scurrying for a 32-yard touchdown run. Pizano’s extra point made it a 42-28 cushion.

Pizano added another 30-yard field goal in garbage time, pushing the score to its eventual 45-28 final.

Vincent Davis Jr. added an additional 100 yards on 11 carries for UNLV. Reese finished with 6 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown. UNLV finished with 4 rushers with over 25 yards on the game, including Maiava.

Maiava was 15/27 for 190 yards and an interception. Ricky White tallied a team-high 62 yards on just two receptions.

UNLV WR/KR Jacob De Jesus, the national leader in kickoff return average, only returned one kick for just one yard.

UNLV faces rival Hawaii at Allegiant Stadium next week in the Ninth Island Showdown. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. PDT.