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November 23, 2014

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

ray brewer:

This loss to UNR will be tougher for UNLV to stomach

Rebels scored 21 unanswered points to open the game but can’t hang on in dropping eighth straight Fremont Cannon game

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNR fans celebrate while UNLV fans look despondent after UNR scored to put the game out of reach 42-31 Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012 at Sam Boyd Stadium.

UNLV vs. UNR 2012

UNLV fans react to UNR's go-ahead touchdown during their game Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012 at Sam Boyd Stadium. UNR came from behind and won the game, for the eighth consecutive time, 42-37. Launch slideshow »

If you thought it couldn’t get much worse for the UNLV football program in its Fremont Cannon rivalry game against UNR, think again.

Yes, even in comparison to last year, when the UNLV quarterback completed just one pass and the Rebels lost for a record seventh straight season to their instate rivals in a 37-0 defeat.

Saturday, they found another humiliating way to lose the most important game of the season. And even though the game was competitive for the first time since 2004, when the Rebels last won, the manner in which the Rebels were defeated, 42-37, surely is more painful than the past string of blowout defeats.

UNLV opened the game with 21 unanswered points and seemed ready to break out the red paint to give the cannon a long-overdue makeover. Then, they stopped playing and were dominated in the second half, allowing a 17-point halftime lead to be erased and losing for the eighth straight time in the series.

This one stings worse than the others because the Rebels had a chance to win. Unlike past games in the losing streak when UNLV had no prayer of victory minutes after kickoff, the Rebels controlled the first half Saturday and were the better team.

It’s like taking that brand new Cadillac for a test drive, then being told you didn’t have credit score to qualify to purchase it. The Rebels seemingly had their hands on the cannon before the Wolf Pack stole it from their grasp.

The Rebels were outgained 164-26 in the third quarter in only having the ball for 4 minutes, 5 seconds and picking up just one first down. UNR showed why it is the better team in the rivalry, and one of the Mountain West Conference’s top programs, scoring 28 unanswered points to take a 42-31 lead with about two minutes to play.

UNLV closed the gap with a last-minute touchdown pass, but the damage was long done. Instead of having a rare signature victory in coach Bobby Hauck’s three-year tenure, the Rebels were on the wrong end of a tough-to-stomach defeat. Yet again.

I’ve long argued Hauck has the Rebels heading in the right direction and have defended him time and again to anyone willing to listen. After all, several are calling for him to be fired.

My opinion hasn’t changed, especially after the great first half, but there needs to be an asterisk next to the opinion this week: Hauck has to beat UNR. It’s that simple. This is the only game that matters.

It was a virtual must-win game to show the strides the program is making in Hauck’s third year. And, just when they got everyone’s hopes up with a solid first half, they couldn’t finish.

The Rebels played not to lose. They watched the clock, not the scoreboard.

“The guys desperately want to win this game a bunch,” Hauck said.

UNLV was stronger and more physical on both sides of the ball for virtually the entire first half, limiting UNR to 33 yards and one first down in the initial quarter. The players were motivated to win and gained confidence with each positive play — quarterback Nick Sherry and running backs Tim Cornett and Bradley Randle were unstoppable early in accounting for each of UNLV’s four first-half touchdowns.

The 31-14 halftime lead seemed too good to be true. Sure, UNLV built its lead to three touchdowns, but you couldn’t help thinking they would eventually implode. You see, that’s what happens each year against UNR.

The second-half collapse was a new way to lose. A more painful way that won’t soon be forgotten.

Don’t worry UNLV fans, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

The UNLV basketball team opened practice Friday, and whether the Rebels won or lost Saturday against Reno, not many will be concerned with the football team for the rest of the season. It’s that way every fall.

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