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This time, Rebels made fewer errors

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PROVO — Legendary head coach John Robinson's UNLV Rebels made enough mistakes against BYU on Friday night to lose most college football games.

Turnovers have plagued the Rebels this season, which began with four consecutive losses, but they forced BYU into the costlier errors — including five turnovers — and stopped two deep BYU drives in the last three minutes to overcome their own miscues and beat the Cougars, 24-20.

The win is the second in two games for UNLV since Robinson, 69, announced his retirement, effective at season's end.

Senior safety Jamaal Brimmer, a Thorpe Award nominee as one of the nation's top defensive backs, forced a fumble and had an interception that set up a Dominique Dorsey touchdown early in the second half.

But it was defensive back Charles Ealy who stripped BYU wide receiver Todd Watkins after he caught a long pass and defensive lineman Bryan Nicholson who recovered the fumble at the UNLV 12 with less than three minutes to play.

The Rebels punted back to BYU (2-4, 1-1) with just more than a minute to go, and BYU quarterback John Beck drove the Cougars to the Rebel 10, but threw three straight incompletions to seal Robinson's 132nd victory.

He is now 132-72-4 overall and 28-37 at UNLV.

UNLV (2-4, 1-1) was minus-8 in turnover margin coming into the game, 110th in the nation. But the Rebels forced five Cougar turnovers and made just two of their own.

The late-game heroics covered a multitude of early sins.

Robinson suffered through mistake-prone UNLV first half that would have ended with the Rebels ahead except for two deadball penalties by linebacker Reggie Butler.

With UNLV ahead 7-3 and the final Cougar drive of the half stalling with 37 seconds left, Butler hit BYU quarterback John Beck as he scrambled out of bounds.

Butler then jumped offsides on the next play, advancing BYU a total of 20 yards to the UNLV 20 without a second ticking off the clock.

Three plays later, the Cougars scored when Todd Watkins outleaped Ealy for Beck's seven-yard jump-ball pass in the end zone.

Butler wasn't the only offender, however. The first-half mistakes included six other penalties, and quarterback Kurt Nantkes was sacked four times.

Nantkes was particularly bad in the first quarter, when he completed just 1 of 9 passes for 8 yards.

He also was sacked twice in the period and nearly was broken in two when BYU defensive back Aaron Francisco hammered him on a blitz.

UNLV's futility was evident in its lack of success on first down. The Rebels ran 10 first-down plays during in the first half for a total of 4 yards.

Still, without Butler's mistakes and Watkins' athletic catch, the Rebels would have led at halftime. Midway through the second quarter, Nantkes teamed with Alvin Marshall on a 46-yard pass play and then hit Earvin Johnson with a 27-yard touchdown pass.

Nantkes absorbed more punishment in the second half, nailed once by Cougar linebacker Brady Poppinga and then rocked a few plays later when Justin Luettgerodt earned a roughing the passer penalty for hitting him in the head.

E-mail: twalch@desnews.com