Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013 | 9:31 p.m.
The chants started before kickoff and got more unprintable as hundreds of UNR fans pushed tighter and tighter into a fence holding them back from UNLV’s victory parade.
After it was over, after the Rebels snapped an eight-game series losing streak and took back the Fremont Cannon with a 27-22 victory in Reno tonight, those clad in blue wanted nothing more than to get out of Mackay Stadium. Holding them up in the east corner of the stadium were steel gates and guards holding the line for UNLV to stream off the field and into the visitor’s locker room.
Wolf Pack fans lobbed every known obscenity and a few made-up insults at the players and coaches wearing red. Each one made the Rebels bounce a little higher and scream a little louder as they marched in to celebrate with the heaviest trophy in college football, which is in for a new paint job.
“Coming off when you know you’ve got the win, you did what you came here to do, (the insults) made the smile much bigger,” said quarterback Caleb Herring. “No matter what was said we got the win. We got the cannon and we’re going back to Vegas as winners.”
Two years ago Herring came into this stadium off the worst game of his career against Southern Utah and topped it, completing only 1-of-14 passes with an interception in a 37-0 loss. To go from that to tonight’s 29-of-42 performance -- including three touchdowns and 335 yards -- is nothing short of remarkable.
His turnaround isn’t the only reason UNLV is in its current position — 5-3 overall and 3-1 in the Mountain West, one victory from its first bowl game since 2000 — but it’s a good place to start. There’s also running back Tim Cornett, who went from officially listed as doubtful Tuesday to his 14th career 100-yard game (122 yards and one touchdown on 26 carries).
“I’m going to cry tonight,” Cornett said. “This is my fourth year, going through the same stuff every year. To finally pull it out, especially in their home, is really big.”
Herring wouldn’t reveal when the team knew Cornett would play but he hinted that it wasn’t as uncertain as most believed. Cornett’s presence proved large in a game where backups Shaquille Murray-Lawrence and Adonis Smith carried the ball only once each.
“It’s always good to go into war with every (available) weapon,” Herring said.
Speaking of weapons, Herring’s favorite target Devante Davis piled up 121 yards and two touchdowns on eight catches. Davis was relatively quiet through three quarters until he caught three passes on one drive, including the decisive points on an 11-yard route where Davis beat his defender in man coverage.
That score put UNLV ahead by 11 and it will be played for years on Rebels highlight tapes. It came in a victory that was years in the making. So was the celebration.
“It was better than I hoped it would be,” Davis said of the postgame locker room. “When we’re going through Ely, and we’re fighting from after the season through the summer grind, through everything this game is always in the back of your mind.”
UNLV wasn’t perfect. Murray-Lawrence’s fumble blew great field position in the first half and poor clock management allowed UNR to take a 16-14 lead at halftime. That score held until Cornett carried multiple bodies into the end zone for the go-ahead score with 11:46 remaining.
Although its day included giving up a wide-open 61-yard touchdown pass, UNLV’s defense once again had a stellar second half and a good overall game. In the final 30 minutes the Rebels held the Wolf Pack to 165 total yards and one touchdown. UNR didn’t get a first down in the third quarter and finished the game 2-of-15 on third downs. UNR was also 1-for-3 on fourth downs, including the game’s final meaningful play.
After the Wolf Pack cut the score to 27-22, they gave UNLV a huge field position swing with two late-hit penalties on the kick return. That gave the Rebels 30 extra yards that they used to put UNR at its own 12 with 2:15 on the clock and needing a touchdown to keep the cannon.
UNLV needed a defensive stop to win the game, a position the players relished but few outsiders felt overly confident in. After all, two weeks ago this same unit gave up a would-be game-winning score to Hawaii before the offense came storming back.
This time the offense only needed to come out for the victory formation.
“Most exciting defensive series I’ve ever watched. The game was in their hands,” Herring said. “We did our part to get out and the defense did their part to keep them down.”
On fourth and 4 from his own 40, UNR quarterback Cody Fajardo threw short to his right. The play was broken up by junior Tajh Hasson, who earlier in the game was burned for a long gain.
“I made a mistake earlier but got it back,” Hasson said. The defensive star of the game was senior Frank Crawford, who had an interception and set up Cornett's score with a fumble recovery.
At the start of the fourth quarter, UNR imitated Wisconsin by playing House of Pain’s “Jump Around” over the PA system. It seemed to pump up the Rebels, including coach Bobby Hauck, as much as anybody. Hauck stalked up and down the sidelines waving his arms up and down, imploring his players to believe in the mission he started nearly four years ago.
Hauck often talks about the extra weight of college rivalry games, of the feeling it creates in the participants on both sidelines. He loves it. That was never more evident than the brief images reporters saw of Hauck exiting the victorious visitor’s locker room, arms draped around him and hands waiting to shake his.
From the chants to the playlist and, most importantly, the cannon packed up into a truck, the Rebels took everything from UNR tonight and made it their own. The Wolf Pack had eight years on top and they said plenty, but tonight Hauck’s Rebels got the last word.
“This one’s for our fans and our kids,” Hauck said. “I love them.”