LAS VEGASâ€”CSU running back Chris Nwoke fumbled inside his own 20-yard line with 5:58 remaining in the game Saturday after the Rams cut an 11-point deficit down to three giving the University of Nevada-Las Vegas the ball at CSUâ€™s 21 and a chance to extend its lead.
CSUâ€™s defense saved Nwoke, forcing UNLV to attempt a field goal when cornerback Shaq Bell flew around the edge, blocking the kick. Freshman Austin Gray recovered the ball and carried it 61 yards to the UNLV four yard line.
Nwoke punched home a touchdown to retake the lead 35-31, but UNLV responded on a drive of its own to go ahead 38-35. Quarterback Pete Thomas threw his only interception of the game on the Ramsâ€™ final drive, sealing the victory for UNLV.
â€œYou canâ€™t look at one thing, one play in a game like this,â€ coach Steve Fairchild said. â€œIt wasnâ€™t the interception or Chrisâ€™ fumble or the last drive. In the end we turned it over more than they did. They made one more play than we did.â€
It was a wild finish to a wild game.
The final six minutes of the game perfectly represented a game full of mental mistakes and missed opportunities for CSU. The Rams took the lead four different times throughout the game and each time either lost the lead or failed to widen the gap.
CSU was unable to score a touchdown on three attempts from the five yard line and Thomas missed a wide open Crockett Gillmore in the end zone resulting in field goals both times.
â€œThis was a big (game) we really needed. We were fighting for our whole team, and we let it slip away,â€ Nwoke said. â€œWe have to keep our heads up and keep grinding.â€
Defensively, CSU struggled to stop the run for the fourth consecutive game, surrendering 244 yards on the ground to UNLV.
Sophomore linebacker Shaquil Barrett sparked the defense early with a 54-yard interception return for a touchdown, but few plays were made as the game went on.
â€œOn defense we need to start being more consistent. Just focus on one play, and donâ€™t worry about the next play or after that,â€ Barrett said. â€œWe got the personnel out there I think we need; we just got to find a way to put it together.â€
The Ramsâ€™ problems went beyond the defense at the end of the game. Special teams errors and turnovers stopped momentum for the Rams at the most inopportune times. CSU turned the ball over three times, twice on fumbles and Thomasâ€™ interception.
One bright spot offensively for the Rams was Nwoke. He rushed for a career high 156 yards on 23 carries for a 6.8 yard average and one touchdown. Nwoke gave all the credit for his success to his offensive line.
Going forward itâ€™s important for leadership to step up and keep a young team from losing all hope.
â€œWe got to make sure all the guysâ€™ heads are up and still believing,â€ Nwoke said. â€œThereâ€™s still a chance, so weâ€™re not going.â€
Sports Editor Cris Tiller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.