Friday, Dec. 16, 1994 | 4:14 p.m.
It was the ultimate case of saving the best performance for last.
The UNLV football team, 3-8 a year ago, completed one of the college football’s most impressive turnarounds by finishing its 1994 season Thursday with a convincing 52-24 victory over Central Michigan University in Las Vegas Bowl III in front of 17,562 at Sam Boyd Stadium.
The Rebels, who completed coach Jeff Horton’s first season with a 7-5 record, dominated every phase of the game, UNLV amassed 589 yards of total offense.
"We opened a lot of doors," Horton said. "We showed the nation that UNLV has a football program." The game was broadcast nationally on ESPN.
Senior wide receiver Henry Bailey capped an outstanding career with four touchdowns and 180 total yards. He walked away with most valuable player honors.
The defense, led by seniors Mark Byers and Keith Washington, shut down Central Michigan’s ground game and harassed quarterback Erik Timpf all evening, eventually knocking him out of the game in the third quarter with a concussion.
The Chippewas, who won the Mid-American Conference title with a 9-2 record, were shorthanded from the outset as All-American tailback Brian Pruitt did not play because of a bruised right knee and foot. Pruitt had rushed for almost 1,900 yards and had scored 22 touchdowns this season before being sidelined with the injuries.
"There’s not a whole lot you can say about a game like this, " Central Michigan coach Dick Flynn said. "We got beat. We made too many mistakes against an outstanding football team and you saw the results."
The Rebel defense was so dominant, it may not have mattered if CMU played error-free. Time after time, UNLV stopped the Chippewas, and when the offense got the ball, the Rebels found their way into the end zone.
Quarterback Jared Brown guided the team to a 31-10 halftime lead and finished with 195 yards passing and two touchdowns. Running back DeJohn Branch rushed for 125 yards and helped set up two of Bailey’s touchdowns, including a 56-yard run in the third quarter.
Any hopes Central Michigan had of a second-half comeback were quickly exstinguished when Marvin Robinson picked off a pass at the UNLV 19. After Branch had run for 56 yards, Bailey capped off a short drive with a 1-yard run.
Clearly, this was UNLV night and the Rebels took full advantage in avenging a 35-23 loss to Chippewas on Sept. 10.
"We were ready," Bailey said. "The 24 seniors wanted it so bad, it spread to the entire team."