LAS VEGAS — For a while, things were clicking.
The Central Michigan offense was balanced, the defense making plays. With a minute left in the second quarter Saturday against the University of Nevada – Las Vegas, the Chippewas had raced out to a 21-0 lead.
But something changed late in the second half.
“We got outplayed, out executed,” head coach Dan Enos said following CMU’s 31-21 loss before 10,981 at Sam Boyd Stadium. His responses to questions were short, tone frustrated.
UNLV (1-2) scored late in the second quarter, on a 12-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Caleb Herring to Devantae Davis.
It was the first of three touchdowns Davis caught from Herring, who entered the game in the first quarter after starting quarterback Nick Sherry threw an interception and led the Rebels on a three-and-out in their first two drives of the game.
Herring went 24-for-28 for 266 yards.
After Tim Cornett (22 carries for 94 yards) rushed 12 yards for a touchdown to cut CMU’s lead to 21-14 with 10:10 left in the third quarter, the Chippewas were forced to punt on back-to-back possessions, eventually leading to a 43-yard pass from Herring to Davis to tie the game at 21.
The Rebels took the lead, 24-21, on a 24-yard field goal from kicker Nolan Kohorst early in the fourth quarter after the Chippewas went three-and-out, made more difficult following a false start penalty by redshirt sophomore Ramadan Ahmeti, replacing the injured Jake Olson at left guard.
UNLV tacked on a touchdown with 6:40 remaining in the fourth quarter, on a 12-yard pass from Herring to Davis (7 catches, 140 yards).
“They made plays, we didn’t,” Enos said. “End of story. In the first half, we made plays. We had many opportunities to make plays and we didn’t. You’ve got to give them credit.”
The Chippewas looked near flawless in the first half, using a balanced offense (181 yards passing, 92 yards rushing) to jump out to a 21-0 lead. Sophomore tailback Saylor Lavallii scored on a 3-yard touchdown run with 4:23 remaining in the first quarter and added another 2:45 into the second.
Redshirt freshman Cooper Rush continued his impressive performance from last weekend, going 14-for-22 for 181 yards in the first half, highlighted by a 21-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Titus Davis.
The score, at the 8-minute mark of the second quarter, put CMU up 21-0.
Rush (23-for-46, 265 yards) struggled in the second half, throwing interceptions on back-to-back drives after UNLV took the lead. Enos credited the Rebels defense — it held CMU to 19 yards rushing in the second half — with shutting down the run-game, forcing CMU to rely on passing.
“We became one-dimensional, and when you become one-dimensional people can tee off on you,” he said.”They got the running game going and made the pass-game open up, and we missed a bunch of tackles. We didn’t get off the field on third down.”
CMU opens Mid-American Conference play next weekend, hosting Toledo at noon Saturday at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. The Rockets are 1-2 after a 33-21 win over Eastern Washington on Saturday.