Oct. 1—The last time the University of New Mexico appeared in Las Vegas, Nevada, as a team, the Lobos had to adapt and survive in a COVID world during the 2020 seven-game college football season.
On Friday night back in Sin City, they once again used their improvisational skills to create their own alternate universe.
UNM alternated quarterbacks and used an up-tempo offense to stun UNLV in the first half, but the Rebels responded with a stirring comeback for a 31-20 win at Allegiant Stadium.
"That's a great college football game," UNM coach Danny Gonzales said during a virtual post-game interview. "That one hurt. That's a crushed locker room. They should be. It hurt bad."
The Rebels (2-0 Mountain West) are 4-1 for the first time since 2003. They entered as 14 1/2 -point favorites but appeared off guard and thrown for a loop with the Lobos' new offensive look.
Senior Miles Kendrick led an opening scoring drive that included redshirt freshman CJ Montes also at quarterback.
In the first quarter, Kendrick scored on a pair of 8-yard touchdown runs making a great read on both plays to confuse Rebel defenders.
Before the first quarter ended the Lobos (2-3, 0-2) had already surpassed their meager offensive effort at LSU last week, when they had an all-time program-low two first downs and 88 yards on 33 plays. The Lobos had 90 yards and seven first downs while building a stunning 14-0 lead.
George Steinkamp connected on a 33-yard field goal early in the second quarter to give UNM a 17-0 lead.
UNLV ended the first half with three long field goals from Daniel Gutierrez (41 yards, 50, 47) to pull within 17-9 at halftime, part of its 24 unanswered points.
UNLV quarterback Doug Brumfield scored on a 6-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter. He also completed a pass in the back of the end zone to Ricky White for the two-point conversion to make it 17-17.
Rebels running back Aidan Robbins scored from 3 yards out early in the fourth quarter for the go-ahead score and a 24-17 lead.
With about 8 minutes remaining, and the Lobos trailing 24-20, UNM linebacker Cody Moon was called for two crucial penalties on one play, for hitting Brumfield just late out of bounds and for unsportsmanlike activity after the hit.
"I didn't think (Brumfield) was out of bounds," Gonzales said. "We'll watch it on tape and see. If that's not a quarterback they probably don't call it. They did and that's 30 yards in penalties. I'm not sure how it wasn't offsetting (when Moon was also flagged on the UNLV sideline) but it wasn't."
UNN cornerback A.J. Odums later made a big play by leaping to grab a pass for an interception in the end zone.
Still, the 30 yards changed the game of field position, which was very important to UNM. The Lobos had struggled on offense after their 17-point outburst.
The Lobos tried desperately for a last-minute drive in the fourth quarter, but the Rebels made sure to stuff them. Cameron Oliver picked off Kendrick and ran it back 22 yards for the touchdown.
Gonzales said two early timeouts in the second half hurt the Lobos.
"We made a mistake in the second half with two timeouts," he said. "One on special teams. We thought we had too many guys on the field and we burned a timeout on offense. Can't do those because timeouts in the second half are really crucial."
UNM had an unprecedented 43-day stay in Las Vegas in 2020, during the coronavirus-shortened season due to the restrictions in New Mexico. The Lobos camped at Hilton Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa in Henderson, Nevada and trained at Sam Boyd Stadium in Vegas.
Oct. 8: Wyoming at New Mexico, 5 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 770 AM/96.3 FM
UNLV Football vs. New Mexico Game Book by Albuquerque Journal on Scribd