Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013 | 11:59 p.m.
The pass spiraled perfectly through the air, soaring from backup quarterback Caleb Herring near UNLV’s 20-yard line to Devante Davis about 50 yards away. At the time, with the Rebels flailing in a three-touchdown hole and the sparse crowd booing, it seemed like a desperation heave.
It turned out to be the spark UNLV so desperately needed.
Davis hauled in that pass for a 50-yard gain; three plays later, he caught a 12-yard touchdown. That was the small crack in the dam that burst into 31 unanswered points over the final 31 minutes in a 31-21 UNLV victory today against Central Michigan at Sam Boyd Stadium. It tied the program record for largest comeback victory.
The turnaround was due not to some inspirational halftime speech — “All that Knute Rockne crap is overrated,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said — but a career game from Herring and what Hauck boiled down to defensive accountability.
“Guys decided to make plays and do their jobs,” Hauck said.
The plays that brought groans in the first half, such as CMU’s 20-yard gain from a screen pass on third-down and 18, disappeared in the second half. While Herring, Davis and running back Tim Cornett were piling up yardage, the Rebel defense held CMU (1-2) to 105 second-half yards and recorded two interceptions with a couple of sacks
The defensive scheme didn’t change because Hauck said the Rebels (1-2) were in “the absolute perfect call” on that long third-down conversion in the first half. He echoed that sentiment for another long third down the Rebels surrendered.
What changed was defenders going out and making plays instead of whiffing as the play blew by them. The defense is important to talk about because it’s surely going to get lost in the conversation about this game. That’s because of Herring.
The fifth-year senior came off the bench for UNLV’s third offensive series and set a new program record for single-game completion percentage (24-of-28; 86 percent) while tying a career record for touchdown passes (three) and nearly setting a new personal best for yardage (266).
Hauck said he always planned to use both starter Nick Sherry, who was intercepted on his first pass, and Herring against CMU. He also said he’d review the video before deciding on a starter for next week’s home game against Western Illinois, but the job will likely belong to Herring after tonight.
After his final touchdown pass Herring had a chance to celebrate with nearly 20 teammates on the field because he had to stick around to hold for the extra point. He soaked up every congratulations, the reward earned for countless hours of work when many believed he’d never get this opportunity, much less make the most of it.
“There’s no other feeling like winning,” Herring said.
Oh, and about that last score. You’ll be seeing that one on UNLV highlight films for quite some time. It was Davis’ final brushstroke on a gallery-worthy painting that included seven catches for 140 yards and three scores.
Davis snuck behind the defense and snagged Herring’s 12-yard pass while tapping his right toe just barely inside the back of the end zone. Not even Davis was sure he made it in.
“I tried to get off the field quickly so we could get the kicking team out there,” Davis said.
Cornett helped keep Davis, his former high school teammate, in a lot of man coverage by rushing for 61 second-half yards and 94 for the game. He also had a 12-yard score.
All those numbers were news to Hauck when he sat down for his postgame press conference. Unlike two weeks ago, when Hauck had time to glance at his team’s yardage while losing at Minnesota, he was too caught up in the fun to keep tabs on the numbers.
“We’ve been partying in there a little bit,” Hauck said.
The Rebels haven’t had any problems this year talking about the success they expect to achieve. That talk means little without the record to back it up. That’s what the partying was about.
“This gave evidence to the things we’ve been doing,” Herring said.