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Rebels look to prove legitimacy in Mountain West opener

UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo said last season’s 28-24 loss to Utah State was “one that got away from us.”

The Rebels were under three minutes away from getting their first win under Arroyo and snapping an 11-game losing streak.

Leading 24-21, all UNLV had to do was stop Utah State one more time. Instead, the Aggies drove 60 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds left.

That was one of six one-score losses last season for the Rebels, and they made it a point of emphasis this season to work on closing out tight games.

Going into their first Mountain West game Saturday against the reigning conference champion Aggies in Logan, Utah, the Rebels are looking to make a statement that their offseason preparation has paid off.

“That’s what we’ve been working on, how to finish games and throw the knockout blow,” junior defensive back Jerrae Williams said. “Don’t just compete. Go compete and win. Finish it.”

A win on the road to open conference play could also be a sign that the Rebels are contenders in the Mountain West. With a 2-1 record, the Rebels sit atop the West Division heading into conference play.

Junior wide receiver Kyle Williams said morale is high, with the team embracing raised standards and wanting to build toward being a conference contender.

“What we are doing is expected. We’ve worked for it,” he said. “This isn’t luck. We’ve really put the work in. These wins we’re getting are expected.”

Arroyo said he liked the way his team responded in a 58-27 victory over North Texas last week after suffering a one-score loss at California in the previous game.

“It’s a confidence-builder,” Arroyo said. “The teams that you play want to do certain things, and you need to have the ability to man up and go after them. It’s good to see.”

Arroyo said the way the Rebels have responded to second-half adjustments has been critical to the their early success.

The Aggies (1-2) are coming off a bye week, but have suffered back-to-back blowout losses, including a 35-7 defeat at home to Football Championship Subdivision opponent Weber State.

Utah State is down a pair of starters in wide receiver Kyle Van Leeuwen and defensive lineman Phillip Paea, and quarterback Logan Bonner hasn’t been as effective this season — with a completion percentage at 50.7 and only three touchdown passes — coming off surgery on his left ACL.

Arroyo said he and his staff are making sure the Rebels are not taking the Aggies lightly, despite their early struggles.

“They’re the defending champs,” Arroyo said. “That doesn’t go away.”

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on Twitter.

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