LAS VEGAS-Coaches often say that the game of football must be won with solid play in all three phases: offense, defense and special teams.
And the CSU football teamsâ€™ poor record can be attributed to not being able to execute in all three at the same time.
Early in the year it was the offense that sputtered. In the past three weeks itâ€™s been the defense stumbling.
And in Saturdayâ€™s 38-35 loss to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, special teams were a key factor in the Ramsâ€™ defeat.
The poor special teams play started after a Shaquil Barrett interception return for a touchdown that gave CSU an early 7-3 lead.
The Rams allowed the ensuing kickoff to be returned 98 yards for a touchdown by UNLVâ€™s Deanteâ€™ Purvis to give the lead right back to UNLV.
That was the biggest return on a day when CSU allowed plenty of lengthy run-backs.
UNLV ended with 269 kick return yards, averaging 38 per attempt. Purvis racked up 146 yards on only three chances.
Perhaps the costliest special teamsâ€™ play of the game came in the second quarter with CSU leading 13-10.
With under a minute remaining UNLV dropped back to punt to CSUâ€™s Momo Thomas.
Thomas fielded the punt with UNLV defenders swarming around him. He was hit immediately after catching the punt and fumbled.
â€œJust a bad decision by me,â€ Thomas said. â€œShould have fair caught it.â€
Thomas caught the punt, thinking that the UNLV gunners on the outside wouldnâ€™t be able to get to him.
â€œI was thinking that I was going to get the blocks over the top on the oneâ€™s (the gunners),â€ Thomas said. â€œBut they got great releases, got down there. Bad decision there by me.â€
UNLV jumped on the loose ball at the CSU 11 and scored three plays later to take a 17-13 lead into halftime.
â€œYou look at it at halftime, they had 17 points,â€ CSU coach Steve Fairchild said. â€œFourteen were off special teams.â€
But the poor play in the third phase of the game continued in the third quarter with a missed field goal.
With CSU leading 20-17, Chad VanderMolen, who replaced an injured Ben DeLine last week, set up for a 47-yard kick.
He had enough distance, but hit the right upright to keep the CSU lead at just three.
CSUâ€™s special teams almost redeemed themselves when Shaq Bell blocked a field goal and Austin Gray returned it to the UNLV four. The Rams scored on the next play to take a lead.
But CSU couldnâ€™t hold on and will be left ruing the missed opportunities and costly mistakes.
â€œIâ€™m hurting right now. The whole locker roomâ€™s hurting,â€ Thomas said. â€œIâ€™ve really never felt like this, honestly. Itâ€™s hurting me right now. I feel like we should have won.â€
Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Lytle can be reached at email@example.com.Follow @Kevin_Lytle