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Last Second Fumble Return Robs Steele of First Victory




Sept. 11, 1999

WACO, Texas - UNLV's Kevin Thomas returned a fumble 99-yard to score a touchdown with no time remaining as the Rebles upset Baylor 27-24 at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco Saturday night.

The Bears led 24-21 with four seconds left on the clock when Darrell Bush was stripped on the goal line at the UNLV one yard line while trying to push his way to the endzone. But just when victory seemed assured, Rebel defensive back Thomas picked up the ball and returned it 99 yards for the touchdown as time expired.

"We were trying to create an atmospshere where we line up and get after people," coach Kevin Steele said of his decision not to have his quarterback take a knee on the game's final play. "We had been telling the players all week we needed to get after people. It was a one-in-a-million play, the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen."<

"It all rests right here," he added, pointing to himself. "It will go down in history as one of the great, 'Why did you do it?' questions."

So stunning was the game's final play, many doubted Thomas had pulled it off. The snap came with time running out and the Bears camped at the UNLV eight. With Bush struggling to score, the ball popped free at Thomas feet. He simply pick it up and took off to the offense's right.

His run in front of his own team's bench sent the Rebels pouring onto the field while the Bears stood stunned in disbelief.

"The players are hurting," Steele said. "We know there will be flaming arrows coming from all directions. We'll have to stand up and take it."

The Bears had several scoring opportunities in the early going, but didn't take advantage of them all.

Baylor got the game's first big break after stopping UNLV's first drive. Rebel punter Ryan McDonald lined up in punt formation deep in his own territory, but a low snap kept him from getting off the kick. McKinley Bowie broke through for the tackle at the seven yard line.

Three plays later Bear quarterback Jermaine Alfred found Lanny O'Steen in the left corner of the endzone on a perfectly executed fade pattern. With 9:08 to play in the first, Baylor led 7-0.

Baylor got another boost on the next Rebel series when linebacker Rodney Smith slammed into UNLV tailback James Wofford and forced a fumble. Smith recovered the loose ball, setting up Baylor on its own 40.

The Bear drive reached the one on fourth down where Elijah Burkins tried the left side with an option pitch. The Bear tailback gained a couple of feet but couldn't cross the goal line as the ball went over on downs.

On the next drive, the Bear defense yielded but a couple of feet, forcing a Rebel punt from the endzone. A harried McDonald got it off, but Andra Fuller returned it to the Rebel 32. For the second time, though, the Bears couldn't take advantage of the good field position as the drive stalled.

"We had a number of opportunities in the first and second quarters, but we let them hang around," Steele said.

After holding the Rebels again, the Bears opened the second quarter by driving 51 yards on 10 plays to set up a 32-yard Kyle Atteberry field goal. The drive consumed 3:19 and made it 10-0, Baylor, with 11:26 to go in the half.

Baylor applied outstanding defensive pressure on the next Rebel series. Smith sacked QB Jason Vaughn once and blitzes caused bad throws on a couple of other plays. The next Bear drive garnered no points and set the stage for UNLV's first scoring march of the night, one that featured a sharp blend of the run and pass.

After moving the ball 81 yards on 10 plays, Vaughn spotted Nate Tuner in the left flat and he found the endzone on the four-yard scoring toss, making it 10-7 with 1:21 before intermission.

The Bears responded with a promising drive of their own as Alfred got the Bears down to the 10, but Kyle Atteberry missed a 27-yard field goal when it bounced off the left upright, keeping score 10-7 at the half.

The Rebels took the second half kick and reached the Bear 32 where they faced a fourth-and-nine. Vaughn saw strong pressure as he rolled right. He completed an eight-yard pass and the Bears took over on downs.

Baylor couldn't mount a drive and UNLV took back over at its own 30 after Atteberry's punt. It took the Rebels eight plays to cover those 70 yards and claim their first lead of the game as Jeremy Rudolph capped it off with a dive over the top from the one. With 4:50 to go in the third, the visitors had claimed a 14-10 margin.

After the Bears got the ball back, they saw another opportunity go awry when Darrell Bush bolted down the left sideline for 66 yards to the 14. But the play was wiped out by an illegal blocking penalty.

The Bears moved the ball out to mid-field before the drive stalled, setting the stage for more heroics from BU linebacker Smith, who forced his second fumble of the game at the Rebel 20. Curtis Henderson picked up the loose ball and returned it to the Rebel 16.

That set the stage for a couple of bullish carries by Baylor fullback Derek Lagway and quarterback sneak by Alfred from the one.

When Atteberry tacked on the PAT, Baylor reclaimed the lead at 17-14 with 14:58 to go in the game.

Smith played a big role in stopping the next Rebel drive as he sacked Vaughn for a six-yard loss, but the Bears couldn't capitalize. After reaching the UNLV 40, BU's Adrian White fumbled down to the Rebel 33.

Nevada-Las Vegas took that momentum and translated it into a 12-play, 67-yard scoring drive. Vaughn hit Turner in the right flat, where he scored to make it 21-7, UNLV, with 7:07 left to play.

Baylor refused to die, though, as Burkins countered with a 53-yard kickoff return to Rebel 44. Very quickly Bush got the Bears down to the 26 with a run around right end and a 15-yard late hit penalty on the play moved the ball downto nine. Bush put the Bears back on top with a 10-yard run.

After a three-play, 42-yard drive that consumed only 47 seconds, the Bears led 24-21.

The Bears quickly forced UNLV to punt, and Baylor started its final drive at the UNLV 42 yard line. Six consecutive runs got Baylor inside the UNLV 10, but Bush's fumble at the one allowed UNLV to score with no time on the clock for the 27-24 victory.

"It wasn't Darrell's fault," Steele said. "I can't tell you how badly I feel for him. I'll promise you this, though. Kevin Steele is not quitting, this staff is not quitting and this team is not quitting."

 

 

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