Fresno State Football

Linebacker Justin Rice ends a long Fresno State drought in Mountain West Conference

Fresno State linebacker Justin Rice was selected the Mountain West Conference player of the week after racking up 10 tackles and coming up with a momentum-turning scoop and score late in the third quarter of a 56-27 victory over UNLV.

It is the first player of the week award for the Bulldogs this season, and the first since quarterback Marcus McMaryion and defensive end Mykal Walker were the offensive and defensive players of the week following a victory over Toledo a year ago.

UNLV had just scuttled a Fresno State drive inside its 5-yard line, staying within one score with 3:58 remaining in the third quarter, when defensive tackle Keiti Iakopo forced a fumble by Rebels running back Charles Williams.

Rice, who had six of his 10 tackles in the second half, scooped the ball up and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown, starting a run of takeaways and touchdowns that paved the way to the Bulldogs’ first conference victory.

After the touchdown by Rice, the Bulldogs stopped the Rebels on a fourth-down play and scored on a 14-yard pass from Jorge Reyna to tight end Jared Rice, Justin’s older brother.

That was followed by an interception by linebacker Arron Mosby and a touchdown run by Josh Hokit, and an interception by safety Juju Hughes and another TD run by Hokit.

Rice is the first Fresno State player to return a fumble for a touchdown since linebacker Ejiro Ederaine in a victory at San Diego State in 2013.

The junior from Modesto also forced a fumble in the first half, and the 10-tackle game was his third in a row and fifth in six games this season. Rice is ranked second in the Mountain West with 10.0 tackles per game.

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
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