Close Only Counts in Horseshoes

by Staff

By Jared QuientSenior Staff Writer

In a game with a high frequency of big offensive plays, it was abig defensive play that decided the game.

With 52 seconds left and the game tied, UNLV (6-5, 4-3 MountainWest Conference) cornerback Amar Brisco intercepted San Diego Statequarterback Lon Sheriff and returned the ball 72 yards to give theRebels a 31-24 victory in front of 17,184 fans at Qualcomm Stadium.

“We were just trying to contain them,” Brisco said. “I read theroute, and jumped on it. The ball was there, and I took it to thehouse.”

The loss marked SDSU’s (3-8, 3-4 MWC) fifth straight home loss.

“We came up short tonight,” said senior Brian Russell. “They madeone more big play than we did, and that was the difference.”

The first half was a tale of two quarters. In the first, neitherteam could move the ball. The two offenses combined to gain just 92yards in the quarter, averaging a paltry 3.5 per play.

When the second quarter began, both quarterbacks woke up. JasonThomas opened the floodgates with a 53-yard touchdown bomb to BobbyNero. That gave UNLV a 7-0 lead, one which would last a total of 23seconds. That’s because on the next play from scrimmage, Sheriffone-upped Thomas, hitting Derrick Lewis on a 68-yard strike to tiethe game.

The rest of the contest would become a duel of “anything you can do,I can do better,” between the two sophomore signal-callers.

In the tale of the tape, it was a split decision. Sheriff threwfor 328 yards on 17 completions. His one touchdown was countered bythe decisive interception. Thomas went 19-of-31 for 277 yards, twotouchdowns and no interceptions.

“(Sheriff) had great numbers tonight,” said head coach TedTollner. “But you can’t throw an interception with the game on theline. He’s come a long way, but he has to take it to the next level.”

Most of Sheriff’s yards came on three deep completions in thesecond quarter, each leading to a touchdown. Behind the arm ofSheriff and the legs of freshman Jason Van, SDSU took a 14-point leadmidway through the second quarter. Van scored twice, and compiled acareer-high 78 yards rushing.

Down two touchdowns, UNLV needed a spark. Enter Jason Thomas. Thesophomore star led the Rebels on a seven-play, 77-yard drive withless than three minutes to go in the quarter. Thomas went 4-of-4 onthe drive, including a 26-yard touchdown pass that cut the Aztecslead in half.

“Having Jason Thomas back healthy really gave us an edge,” saidUNLV head coach John Robinson. “Our passing game led the waytonight.”

When the bell rang to start the second half, the Rebels came outswinging. With momentum in hand, Thomas and his receivers took to theair. His pinpoint passes, many coming across his body, led UNLV toits third touchdown of the game, tying the score at 21.

“The running game carried us the last three games,” Thomas said.”It was our turn to carry them.”

As they had done all game, SDSU answered. The Aztecs retook thelead on a Nate Tandberg field goal, and held it into the fourthquarter.

On its next possession, SDSU had a golden chance to take controlof the game. But with the block of Nate Tandberg’s 32-yard fieldgoal, the momentum shifted once again.

The Rebels eventually capitalized, tying the game on a DillonPieffer field goal with 3:09 remaining.

Three minutes left, the game on the line.

Sheriff had seen this before. Twice this season, he had led SDSUto comeback victories. His third was not to be. The sophomore madehis only mistake of the game in its most crucial play.

For the Aztecs, this game epitomized the season. Such promise, yetno results.

“This hurts us just as much as it would had we been playing a bowlgame,” Tollner said. “To have the seniors go out like this hurts alot.”