Photo courtesy goaztecs.com
November 20, 2021 (Las Vegas) - Lucas Johnson completed 18 of 24 pass attempts for 192 yards and threw three touchdowns, and No. 23 San Diego State survived a scare to beat UNLV 28-20 on Friday night.
The Aztecs led just 21-20 before Johnson found Jesse Matthews for a 7-yard strike with 3:33 left in the game.
San Diego State linebacker Seyddrick Lakalaka intercepted UNLV quarterback Justin Rogers with less than 2 minutes left in the game to thwart the Rebels' last-ditch effort.
San Diego State, which finished with a 5-0 road mark, improved to 10-1 overall, matching its best 11-game start since starting 10-0 in 1969. The Aztecs are one of five teams in the country currently with 10 wins, joining Cincinnati, Georgia, Houston, and UTSA.
Matthews finished with nine receptions for 75 yards and had three touchdowns, becoming the first San Diego State player to score three TDs in one game since Colin Lockett's trio in the 2011 New Orleans Bowl.
Las Vegas product Elijah Kothe finished with five receptions for 84 yards for the Aztecs, while Greg Bell ran for 52 yards on 14 carries.
While San Diego State improved to 21-10 all-time against the Rebels (2-9), UNLV outgained the Aztecs, 394-290.
"I didn't think we played Aztec football, especially on the defensive side," San Diego State coach Brady Hoke. "We've got to do a better job. We can't give up big plays thrown over our heads. We've got to coach better. We as a staff, we got to look at some things."
UNLV lost starting quarterback Cam Friel midway through the first half and turned to Rogers, the original starter at the beginning of the season. Rogers looked nothing like the shaky quarterback who stepped in at times during the Rebels' campaign.
Rogers finished 15 of 21 for 305 yards and two touchdown passes, while Steve Jenkins had five receptions for 176 yards.
Charles Williams, the Rebels' career rushing leader, was held to 40 yards on 16 carries.
Instead, it was Rogers sparking the Rebels in the first half, going 6 for 7 for 126 yards and one touchdown, a 43-yard strike to a wide-open Zyell Griffin.
Griffin found his way behind San Diego State's secondary and was alone when he caught the ball before waltzing in untouched.
The Aztecs would answer on their next drive, needing only 3:38 to travel 59 yards in 10 plays, culminating with a 4-yard TD pass from Johnson to Matthews to put San Diego State back on top, 14-10.
UNLV's next drive started well but stalled when San Diego State stopped the Rebels on a 4th and 2 and got the ball back on its own 46-yard line with 49 seconds left in the half.
The Aztecs went right to work, fitting eight plays and 54 yards into a mere 44 seconds, as Johnson and Matthews hooked up a second time to push San Diego State's lead to 21-10 at the half.
It marked the first time the Aztecs scored more than 23 points since Oct. 9.
"I feel like we still have a lot of work to do," Matthews said. "We knew we had to points on the board for our defense. It was our time to step up."
At the very least, San Diego State will likely hold in the Top 25 discussion in this week's poll with a possibility of moving down a spot or two after having trouble with the two-win Rebels. The Aztecs rank 19th in the College Football Playoff rankings.
San Diego State hosts Boise State in the season finale Friday.